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President Obama interviews author Marilynne Robinson

Barack Obama, Marilynne Robinson

Writer Marilynne Robinson with President Obama after he interviewed the novelist.

(Andrew Harnik / AP)

Maybe after he leaves the White House, President Obama can start filling in for Terry Gross.

Obama -- the Interviewer in Chief -- sat down with award-winning novelist Marilynne Robinson for a conversation that is now available on iTunes and in the New York Review of Books.

Obama has long been a fan of Robinson, whose novels include “Gilead,” “Home” and the Pulitzer-prize-winning “Housekeeping.” Her latest book, “Lila,” won the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction.

The president and Robinson, who sat down together on Sept. 14, discussed religion, history and Robinson’s upbringing in Idaho. Obama started the conversation with praise for Robinson’s fiction, saying, “I love your books. Some listeners may not have read your work before, which is good, because hopefully they’ll go out and buy your books after this conversation.”

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Robinson, whose writing frequently deals with religion, talked about her Christian faith in the interview. “I mean, when people are turning in on themselves — and God knows, arming themselves and so on — against the imagined other, they’re not taking their Christianity seriously,” she said. “It’s supposed to be difficult. It’s supposed to be a challenge.”

Obama and Robinson also discussed public policy, with Robinson speaking up for America’s often maligned school system. “We have a great educational system that is — it’s really a triumph of the civilization,” she said. “And it has no defenders. Most of the things we do have no defenders because people tend to feel the worst thing you can say is the truest thing you can say.”

The interview isn’t the first time Obama has recognized Robinson in a public forum. In 2013, the president awarded Robinson the National Humanities Medal, a recognition that has also gone to authors John Ashbery, Joan Didion and Elie Wiesel.

Obama also quoted Robinson in his remarks at the funeral for Clementa Pinckney, the South Carolina state senator and pastor who was slain with eight others at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

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“That’s what I’ve felt this week — an open heart,” Obama said in his eulogy. “That, more than any particular policy or analysis, is what’s called upon right now, I think — what a friend of mine, the writer Marilyn Robinson, calls ‘that reservoir of goodness, beyond, and of another kind, that we are able to do each other in the ordinary cause of things.’”


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