Skip to main content

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author Visits State Penitentiary

December 28, 2016

By Andrew Gallagher and Rachel Friederich

Department of Corrections

individuals posing for photo at the gym

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author, Dr. Marilynne Robinson, talks with inmates at the Washington State Penitentiary. Carol Fitzgerald, who administers a program that allows inmates at the penitentiary to earn Associate's Degrees, organized the event. (Photo courtesy of Associate Superintendent Carla Schettler)

“These people who can see right through you never quite do you justice, because they never give you credit for the effort you're making to be better than you actually are, which is difficult and well-meant and deserving of some little notice.”
— The Gilead

WALLA WALLA – Pulitzer prize-winning author and scholar, Dr. Marilynne Robinson recently visited inmates and staff at the Washington State Penitentiary (WSP).

Robinson has more than a dozen awards including the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel, Gilead. Other recent awards include the 2012 National Humanities Medal and the 2016 Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction.

Robinson met with 60 incarcerated students who had obtained either a General Equivalency Diploma (GED) or Associate’s degree. Students in the prison’s GED classes read Robinson’s 1980 novel, Housekeeping. For two hours, Robinson answered questions from the inmates and shared stories about her career.

“It was a real treat for the WSP students and staff to meet such an acclaimed scholar in person,” said Andrew Gallagher, a Walla Walla Community College professor who teaches Adult Basic Education and GED classes at the prison. “We couldn’t have been more proud of our students. They asked excellent questions and showed enormous respect and appreciation to their guest speaker.”

Robinson was visiting Walla Walla for an event at Walla Walla University and asked prison staff if she could visit the penitentiary. Robinson is a professor at the University of Iowa and is a member of the university’s writer’s workshop. Members of the workshop regularly visit prisons around the country to work with inmates on their writing skills, Gallagher said.

Incarcerated students at the penitentiary also asked Robinson about her writing process and what inspires her novels. She gave additional tips for aspiring writers, such as becoming an avid reader of classic literature authors including William Shakespeare, Walt Whitman and William Faulkner. Several inmates also asked questions about Housekeeping, spurring a lively discussion of the book, Gallagher said.