On bearing witness

Marilynne Robinson wants her students to tell their own stories.



Marilynne Robinson wants her students to tell their own stories.


When I’m teaching, one of the things that I’m always trying to do is encourage writers to think, what witness would I carry, what have I seen in the world? And, of course, we have quite a diverse population here and they’ve seen different things; or even to the extent that their experiences are at all similar, they have passed through the lens of an entirely different sensibility, you know.

And when people talk about what they have experienced authentically, other people see the authenticity of it and they recognise the experience, you know. We have … you know, it’s such a strange thing. This culture has sort of indulged itself in story-telling. I mean, we’re crazy for stories, you know. And so that when a student comes into my class, he or she has two million stories contending. Then the question is, how do you find your own voice, what is your own vision out of all this? The culture doesn’t need another receptacle for these little obsessions it happens to have. And then usually, writing about their mothers, or the house they lived in when they first remember, that sort of thing – that’s where they walk in, find out that they live in another world in a certain sense than anyone else does, and they have another thing to tell.