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Barbara Kingsolver


USA flag (1955 - )

Barbara Kingsolver was born on April 8, 1955. She grew up "in the middle of an alfalfa field," in the part of eastern Kentucky that lies between the opulent horse farms and the impoverished coal fields. While her family has deep roots in the region, she never imagined staying there herself. "The options were limited-grow up to be a farmer or a farmer's wife."

Kingsolver has always been a storyteller: "I used to beg my mother to let me tell her a bedtime story." As a child, she wrote stories and essays and, beginning at the age of eight, kept a journal religiously. Still, it never occurred to Kingsolver that she could become a professional writer. Growing up in a rural place, where workcentered mainly on survival, writing didn't seem to be a practical career choice. Besides, the writers she read, she once explained, "were mostly old, dead men. It was inconceivable that I might grow up to be one of those myself . . . "

Kingsolver left Kentucky to attend DePauw University in Indiana, where she majored in biology. She also took one creative writing course, and became active in the last anti-Vietnam War protests. After graduating in 1977, Kingsolver lived and worked in widely scattered places. In the early eighties, she pursued graduate studies in biology and ecology at the University of Arizona in Tucson, where she received a Masters of Science degree. She also enrolled in a writing class taught by author Francine Prose, whose work Kingsolver admires.

Kingsolver's fiction is rich with the language and imagery of her native Kentucky. But when she first left home, she says, "I lost my accent . . . [P]eople made terrible fun of me for the way I used to talk, so I gave it up slowly and became something else." During her years in school and two years spent living in Greece and France she supported herself in a variety of jobs: as an archaeologist, copy editor, X-ray technician, housecleaner, biological researcher and translator of medical documents. After graduate school, a position as a science writer for the University of Arizona soon led her into feature writing for journals and newspapers. Her numerous articles have appeared in a variety of publications, including The Nation, The New York Times, and Smithsonian, and many of them are included in the collection, High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never. In 1986 she won an Arizona Press Club award for outstanding feature writing, and in 1995, after the publication of High Tide in Tucson, Kingsolver was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from her alma mater, De Pauw University.

Kingsolver credits her careers in scientific writing and journalism with instilling in her a writer's discipline and broadening her "fictional possiblities." Describing herself as a shy person who would generally prefer to stay at home with her computer, she explains that "journalism forces me to meet and talk with people I would never run across otherwise."

From 1985 through 1987, Kingsolver was a freelance journalist by day, but she was writing fiction by night. Married to a chemist in 1985, she suffered from insomnia after becoming pregnant the following year. Instead of following her doctor's recommendation to scrub the bathroom tiles with a toothbrush, Kingsolver sat in a closet and began to write The Bean Trees, a novel about a young woman who leaves rural Kentucky (accent intact) and finds herself living in urban Tucson.

The Bean Trees, published by HarperCollins in 1988, and reissued in a special ten-year anniversary hardcover edition in 1998, was enthusiastically received by critics. But, perhaps more important to Kingsolver, the novel was read with delight and, even, passion by ordinary readers. "A novel can educate to some extent," she told Publishers Weekly. "But first, a novel has to entertain-that's the contract with the reader: you give me ten hours and I'll give you a reason to turn every page. I have a commitment to accessiblity. I believe in plot. I want an English professor to understand the symbolism while at the same time I want the people I grew up with-who may not often read anything but the Sears catalogue-to read my books."

For Kingsolver, writing is a form of political activism. When she was in her twenties she discovered Doris Lessing. "I read the Children of Violence novels and began to understand how a person could write about the problems of the world in a compelling and beautiful way. And it seemed to me that was the most important thing I could ever do, if I could ever do that".

 
Novels

 
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Awards
Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction Best Book nominee (1999) : The Poisonwood Bible
Oprah's Book Club Best Book nominee (1999) : The Poisonwood Bible
PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction Best Book nominee (1999) : The Poisonwood Bible
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction Best Book nominee (1999) : The Poisonwood Bible
Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction Best Book winner (2010) : The Lacuna
International IMPAC Dublin Literary Awards Best Novel nominee (2011) : The Lacuna
Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction Best Book nominee (2013) : Flight Behavior


Barbara Kingsolver recommends

Unquiet Earth (1992)
Denise Giardina
"A flawless, fearless, great American story. It cuts a wide path through the worst and the best of what we are."
So Far from God
So Far from God (1993)
Ana Castillo
"A delightful novel... impossible to resist."
Kissing the Virgin's Mouth
Kissing the Virgin's Mouth (2001)
Donna M Gershten
"A beautifully written, lyrical novel. This is the kind of book you inhale in one breath and can't forget afterward."
The Book of Dead Birds
The Book of Dead Birds (2003)
Gayle Brandeis
"Lyrical, imaginative, beautifully crafted, and deeply intelligent. Before anything else, its characters take you by the heart."

Ordinary Wolves (2004)
Seth Kantner
"An astonishing book."
Correcting the Landscape
Correcting the Landscape (2006)
Marjorie Kowalski Cole
"A powerful portrayal of a community imperiled by allegencies within and beyond itself, Correcting the Landscape is subtle, politically intelligent, and personally mesmerizing - everything I love."
Mudbound
Mudbound (2008)
Hillary Jordan
"This is storytelling at the height of its powers."

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky (2010)
Heidi W Durrow
"A breathless telling of a tale we've never heard before. Haunting and lovely, pitch-perfect, this book could not be more lovely."

Running the Rift (2012)
Naomi Benaron
"This is truly fearless writing: ambitious, beautiful, unapologetically passionate."

And West Is West (2015)
Ron Childress
"A crackerjack story."


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