Faith and Fiction

Marilynne Robinson on the reception of Gilead

HUMANITIES, November/December 2007, Volume 28, Number 6

“An interesting part of the experience of publishing Gilead has been to discover how surprised people are that other people like the book. There is assumed to be a sort of hostility to religious characters and subjects, at least among those who read and publish books, that should have doomed it to obscurity at best. I’ll admit that the reception of Gilead startled me a little, too, because it is quiet as fictions go and set in a time and place that might not seem compelling to everyone. I've always told my students to write the book they want to read. And that is advice I give myself, since any novel is an intense labor, years in duration, and I can't imagine anything much worse than putting in that kind of time, trying to appeal to tastes or interests I don't share. If I had any doubts about the book’s finding readers, this was true not because the book is about religion, but because it is about theology. In fact, it is being published in about thirty languages and countries, including Turkey and Vietnam. On several occasions, people have told me, Gilead proves that you really can write about anything. That is a lesson I am very happy to have a hand in teaching if everything is understood to include those things a writer loves and believes. We tell our students to trust the reader, to respect the reader, and that does include speaking truly from one's own experience, which for most of us does include love and belief.”

—Marilynne Robinson, delivering the 2007 McBride Lecture at Oklahoma Christian University, with support from the Oklahoma Humanities Council.