Marilynne Robinson awarded 2006 Grawemeyer religion award

Marilynne Robinson's highly acclaimed novel "Gilead," which won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, has been awarded the 2006 Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion. The prize, awarded by the Grawemeyer Foundation at the University of Louisville, was announced Thursday. It's the first time a novel has won the award, foundation officials said in a news release.

The novel was selected among 53 nominations. The Grawemeyer religion prize, started in 1985, is given jointly by the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and the University of Louisville. Robinson, who lives in Iowa City, is an instructor at the University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop, but has taken a year off from teaching. A message left with the workshop was not immediately returned.

"Gilead" was Robinson's first piece of fiction since her debut novel, "Housekeeping," won critical acclaim after its release in 1980. "Gilead," which Robinson has described as a "quiet, gentle book," has also won the National Book Critics' Circle price and was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award.

The story is set in a small rural Iowa town and takes the form of a diary written by a preacher named John Ames. Upon learning his health is failing, he writes an account of his life to his 7-year-old son. The book has been described as "profoundly theological but never preachy" and "contributed mightily to the practice of the presence of God," the news release said.

Susan Garrett, the director of the Grawemeyer Award in Religion and a professor at the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, said it was Robinson's unique ability to tell the story as both a theologian and a novelist that attracted foundation members.

The foundation awards $1 million (Ђ850,000) each year - $200,000 (Ђ170,985) each for works in music composition, education, ideas improving world order, religion and psychology. The award is named for Charles Grawemeyer, an industrialist and University of Louisville graduate, who wanted to reward powerful ideas or creative works in the sciences, arts and humanities, AP reports.

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