Pulitzer-Prize winner Robinson lends her voice to Reclaim Idaho

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff Writer

Of the many things to which Sandpoint claims fame, one of the most underrated must be Marilynne Robinson. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author and accomplished scholar, who is also a professor emeritus at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, will visit her birthplace this week to speak about public education in Idaho as part of a Reclaim Idaho event.

Marilynne Robinson.

Reclaim Idaho — a campaign started by local Luke Mayville with a platform of strong public schools, protected public lands and health care for working families — is hosting an event at the Panida tonight at 7 p.m. meant to serve as a “call to action” regarding Idaho public schools. Robinson will be the event’s keynote speaker.

I caught up with Robinson last week to ask a few questions regarding Idaho’s schools, her connection to Sandpoint and (a slightly self-indulgent inquiry) about being a writer.

SR: Thursday’s event addresses “the crisis facing Idaho public schools.” How would you define that crisis?

MR: The crisis of public education is affecting schools in many parts of this country, and in other countries as well. The education I received in public schools in Idaho has served me very well, not only by making me aware of the value of learning, but also in making me aware that there are a great many ways to be smart. I think this kind of experience is essential to democracy, and that all the talk about the failure of the schools, and supposedly “elite” or otherwise exclusive education deprives people of a privilege only public education can provide.

SR: With Sandpoint being your hometown, what does it mean to be able to help out a grassroots campaign in this area?

MR: I do feel a very specific gratitude to Idaho. It is also true that a very valuable part of our culture is being taken out of our hands, and I talk about this whenever the occasion arises.

SR: Seeing as you’re such an accomplished writer and storyteller, I can’t resist the chance to ask: What piece of advice do you think every young writer should hear?

MR: Read, and read ambitiously. Write. Find your way to the things that truly matter to you and explore them. A high school English teacher in Coeur d’ Alene, Mrs. Soderling, told us that, since we would live with our mind every minute of our lives, we should be sure that we made our mind a good companion. She meant, particularly, that we should read good books. No one has ever given me better advice.

Meet Marilynne Robinson tonight at the Panida Theater at 7 p.m. for a presentation hosted by Reclaim Idaho.

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