Live Richly

A hush falls over the crowd as all heads turn and all eyes redirect toward the entrance on the right. Marilynne Robinson has just entered the room. Opportunities like this don’t arise everyday, and everyone in the crowd is aware of just how fortunate they are. Well, maybe not the select few students who are slouching back in their seats, suffering through an hour of “some author” in the hopes of gaining a little extra credit. But as for myself and countless other literary junkies, we recognized we were about to hear one of the great authors of our time speak.

Marilynne Robinson, an essayist and novelist, has won numerous awards. I could spend the rest of my time listing the award and the importance of each one, but that is what Google is for.

She begins her lecture and enthralls everyone in the room. The silence is overwhelming. Never have I experienced such a renowned figure speak to a room of 200+ and command such attention. Similarly, I doubt the lecture hall has ever experienced such a silence. I wish I could convey the magnitude of her lecture with the notes I quickly jotted down and the memories still fresh in my mind. However, her intellectual mind, powerful word choice, and well-prepared lecture were beyond capture in my small, spiral-bound notebook.

Fortunately, I can recall the parts that impacted me most and the promise they brought to my life, the hope they brought to my future, and the reassurance they brought to my inner passion for reading.

Marilynne Robinson believes books are important. She states this as a fact. If she believes it, well then I am fully prepared to spend the rest of my life surrounded by books; not that I haven’t done that already… She believes books are important, not just for pleasure, but for their impact on the world. Books move through the world. Gilead, her Pulitzer Prize winning novel , has bee published in Iran. IRAN! Her novel is about God, forgiveness, and differences and she gets to share those thoughts in a war torn country in the form of written word. Books have more impact than we ever can really conceive. Throughout generations books can be read, throughout countries books can be shared, and throughout minds books can settle in. Above all else, this re-inspired my love for reading.

The subject of Robinson’s lecture was “Reconceiving Realism: The Case for a Deeper Attention,” and I was in awe of what she had to say. She stated we create reality for one another whether it is through the voice of another experience or the voice of humanity. She believes fiction is a very simple instance of fact and the American realist novels tended toward expose. This allowed fiction to tell the painful truth. However, she believes today that the commitment to truth has been lost and replaced with a society tinged with cynicism. So many in our society today believe it has failed; therefore, people have failed. Fortunately, Robinson believes differently. She said, “People are not products of society but society may inhibit them or advance them.” Furthermore, she goes on to state that in fiction, a real character ought to seem like someone you know, and reality is the ultimate mystery. We create reality for one another.

Unfortunately, like I stated before, my summarization is a failure in comparison to her deep intellectual mind and speaking capabilities. If you have the opportunity, I strongly encourage you go here her speak because the next ten minutes of her lecture are what had the most impact on my life.

When the question and answer session first began, not a soul raised his or her hand. Everyone was intimidated, that much was clear. The calm look cast upon her face assured us, or me at least, that this happened often. I mean, how many of us can say we are the most elite person in a room? Definitely not I.

Regardless, we can all benefit from her insight. She answered numerous political questions, which I am not going to go into for length purposes and the fact that her last answer struck me the most. However, she does say this in response to a political question, “Nothing comes easier than fear; nothing comes easier than hatred.” I realize this on a daily basis and firmly believe it is the root of many issues in our society. This brings me to one of her more powerful answers. I am not entirely sure what the question was because the person who asked took about a minute to do so, fortunately, part of her answer caught my souls attention. Someone earlier in her life asked her if she was afraid people wouldn’t like her ideas, wouldn’t like her book, or wouldn’t like her for writing it. She replied with “HA!” She said, “I write the book I want to write. Nobody else can do it. We all speak out of our own view.” She doesn’t have to force someone to like her book. Heck, she doesn’t even have to force someone to read her book. But, she recognizes that she has the ability to write well and she has thoughts and believes she wants the world to know about. If she doesn’t write them down, who will? Answer: No one.

Furthermore, I loved her lecture because she understands college students. As a graduate professor, she knows the hardships we face each and every day. My mind is constantly clouded with worries about the future, and I felt like she was speaking directly to me when she said, “There ought to be a wider aspiration to live richly.” She encourages her students and encouraged the lecture hall to find what we are capable of, find what we love and find our happiness in “the sweet reality of day-to-day life.” There is no one program for what people should do. We have the privilege of having a complex brain and we cannot let ourselves be constrained by what we don’t know or what we do know.

I could go on and on about how this inspired my passions and encouraged me to look past my fears. But, instead I encourage everyone reading this to take a moment, reflect on your own fears or doubts and refuse to let them hold you back. This is the gift Marilynne Robinson gave to me, and it is this gift I want to relay to you.



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