Gail K. Godwin
68MA, 71PhD

Achievement 2009

Gail K. Godwin

Gail Godwin is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop whose witty, powerful, and moving novels have received multiple national honors—and the devotion of millions of readers.

Godwin was born in Birmingham, Alabama, grew up in Ashville, North Carolina, and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1959 with a degree in journalism. After working for the Miami Herald as a general assignment reporter, she traveled to Denmark, the Canary Islands, and London, experiences she describes in the first volume of her journals as pivotal to her literary development.

At the age of 29, Godwin was admitted to the graduate writing program at the University of Iowa, where she studied with Kurt Vonnegut and earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in English. Her Iowa thesis became her first published novel, The Perfectionists (1970), beginning Godwin's long and prolific writing career.

The author has published 11 novels, two short story collections, and one work of nonfiction. Her best-known works include The Odd Woman (1974), A Mother and Two Daughters (1982), The Good Husband (1994), Evensong (1999) and Evenings at Five (2003). Along with her longtime companion, the composer Robert Starer, she wrote libretti for ten musical works including a chamber opera, The Other Voice, which premiered in New York City in 2001. After Starer's death in 2001, Godwin wrote her novella, Evenings at Five, which was based on their 30-year relationship. Her most recent work is Queen of the Underworld (2007).

Godwin has been nominated for three National Book Awards. In addition, she has received a National Endowment for the Arts grant in creative writing (1974-75); a Guggenheim Fellowship (1975-76); a National Endowment for the Arts grant for librettists (1977); an American Book Awards nomination in 1980 for Violet Clary and in 1982 for A Mother and Two Daughters; an Award in Literature from the American Institute and Academy of Arts and Letters (1981); a Thomas Wolfe Memorial Award from the Lipinsky Endowment of Western North Carolina Historical Association (1988); and a Janet Kafka Award from the University of Rochester (1988). She holds honorary doctorates from the University of North Carolina, the University of the South-Sewanee and State University of New York.

Her books are lauded for their vivid evocation of human experience, while other writers and readers alike praise Godwin for her tender and sardonic, romantic and funny prose style. In 1995, writer Lihong Xie published a study of Godwin's works titled The Evolving Self in the Novels of Gail Godwin. In it, Xie says of her writing, "[Godwin] is one of the most articulate of contemporary writers to pursue the idea of the self' The southern women who are nearly always Godwin's heroines find themselves caught between the ideal of southern womanhood and the brave new world of contemporary feminism. Yet each of Godwin's heroines struggles to form a personal identity that is strong, complex, dynamic, and meaningful."

One of the most remarkable graduates from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Gail Godwin deserves this Distinguished Alumni Award for her outstanding achievements and contributions to the world of literature.