Center for Southern Studies to award 2021 Thomas Robinson Prize to Barbara Kingsolver

Robinson Prize graphic

MACON – Mercer University’s Spencer B. King Jr. Center for Southern Studies will award the 2021 Thomas Robinson Prize for Southern Literature to novelist, essayist and poet Barbara Kingsolver.

The prize will be presented April 17 at 1 p.m. in a livestreamed ceremony at

“I’m honored to join some of my great writing heroes as a recipient of this prize and to carry on the tradition of Southern literature, the language of my heart,” said Kingsolver.

Kingsolver was born in 1955 and grew up in rural Kentucky. She earned degrees in biology from DePauw University and the University of Arizona. She has lived in England, France and the Canary Islands and has worked in Europe, Africa, Asia, Mexico and South America. She spent two decades in Tucson, Arizona, before moving to southwestern Virginia where she currently resides.

“Barbara Kingsolver’s works illustrate the complexity and fragility of connections between humans and the environment,” said Dr. David A. Davis, chair of the Robinson Prize Committee and associate professor of English at Mercer. “She finds points of intersection that cross time and space and explores the relationships that extend outward from these points, revealing that isolation is an illusion, even in remote, rural parts of the world.”

Kingsolver is the author of 15 books translated into more than two dozen languages and adopted into the core literature curriculum in high schools and colleges throughout the nation. She served as editor for Best American Short Stories 2001, contributed to more than 50 literary anthologies, and her reviews and articles have appeared in most major U.S. newspapers and magazines.

The Poisonwood Bible was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the Orange Prize and won the national book award of South Africa before being named an Oprah Book Club selection. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle won numerous prizes including the James Beard award. The Lacuna won Britain’s prestigious Orange Prize for Fiction in 2010.

Kingsolver was named one the most important writers of the 20th century by Writers Digest. In 2000, she received the National Humanities Medal, the nation’s highest honor for service through the arts. She has received multiple awards from the American Booksellers Association and the American Library Association, among many others. In 2011, she was awarded the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

Kingsolver established the Bellwether Prize for Fiction, the nation’s largest prize for an unpublished first novel, which since 1998 has helped to establish the careers of more than a half-dozen new literary voices. Through a recent agreement, the prize is now known as the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.

The Thomas Robinson Prize for Southern Literature, previously known as the Sidney Lanier Prize, was first awarded in 2012. The prize recognizes writers who have engaged and extended the long, often complicated, tradition of writing about the South. Past winners include Ernest Gaines (2012), Lee Smith (2013), Elizabeth Spencer (2014), Yusef Komunyakaa (2015), Wendell Berry (2016), Ellen Gilchrist (2017), Natasha Trethewey (2018), Fred Chappell (2019) and Ron Rash (2020).

The selection committee for the Robinson Prize includes Mercer professors, eminent scholars of Southern literature and members of the Macon community. In addition to Dr. Davis, the committee includes Bob Brinkmeyer, Emily Brown Jefferies Professor of English at the University of South Carolina; Sharon Colley, professor of English at Middle Georgia State College; Sarah Gardner, Distinguished University Professor of History at Mercer; Trudier Harris, Distinguished Research Professor of English at the University of Alabama; Barbara Ladd, professor of English at Emory University; John Wharton Lowe, Barbara Methvin Professor of English at the University of Georgia; Judson Mitcham, former Georgia Poet Laureate; Chelsea Rathburn, Georgia Poet Laureate and assistant professor of creative writing at Mercer; and Pam Thomasson, past president of Historic Macon Foundation.

Dr. Joe Sam Robinson, Jr., and his wife Betsy Robinson, of Macon, made a gift to assist Mercer in meeting a National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grant during the 2016-17 reporting year. Their financial commitment created a new endowment, the Thomas McRae Hamilton Robinson Endowment, within the Center for Southern Studies that supports a public reading by the prize winner at the annual presentation ceremony. The endowment honors the memory of their son Thomas Robinson and significantly enhances literary programming in Middle Georgia by underwriting the event.

Mercer will also award Spencer King Creative Writing Scholarships on April 17. High school juniors with high aptitude for writing may compete for the scholarships, and winners will receive up to $2,000 per year toward the cost of tuition at Mercer. To be eligible, students must complete an application and submit either a work of short fiction of no more than 700 words or two poems totaling no more than 700 words. For more information, contact the Office of Admissions at

About the Spencer B. King Jr. Center for Southern Studies

The Spencer B. King Jr. Center for Southern Studies fosters critical discussions about the many meanings of the South. As the only center for southern studies in the United States dedicated to the education and enrichment of undergraduate students, the Center’s primary purpose is to examine the region’s complex history and culture through courses, conversations and events that are open, honest and accessible.

About the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Mercer University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences serves as the academic cornerstone of one of America’s oldest and most distinctive institutions of higher learning. The oldest and largest of Mercer’s 12 schools and colleges, it is a diverse and vibrant community, enrolling more than 1,900 students, dedicated to learning and service through the practice of intellectual curiosity, respectful dialogue and responsible citizenry. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offers majors in more than 30 areas of study, including more than a dozen pre-professional academic tracks, with classes taught by an outstanding faculty of scholars. In 2015, Mercer was awarded a chapter of The Phi Beta Kappa Society, the nation’s most prestigious academic honor society that recognizes exceptional achievement in the arts and sciences. For more information, visit