"Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to truth, but not its twin." -- Barbara Kingsolver
Barbara Kingsolver (born April 8, 1955) is an American novelist, essayist, and poet. She was raised in rural Kentucky and lived briefly in the former Republic of Congo in her early childhood. Kingsolver earned degrees in Biology at DePauw University and the University of Arizona and worked as a freelance writer before she began writing novels. Her widely known works include The Poisonwood Bible, the tale of a missionary family in the Congo, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a non-fiction account of her family's attempts to eat locally.
Her work often focuses on topics such as social justice, biodiversity, and the interaction between humans and their communities and environments. Each of her books published since 1993 have been on the New York Times Best Seller list. Kingsolver has received numerous awards, including the UK's Orange Prize for Fiction 2010, for The Lacuna and the National Humanities Medal. She has been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Pulitzer Prize.
In 2000, Kingsolver established the Bellwether Prize to support "literature of social change."
"Few people know so clearly what they want. Most people can't even think what to hope for when they throw a penny in a fountain.""I'm of a fearsome mind to throw my arms around every living librarian who crosses my path, on behalf of the souls they never knew they saved.""It kills you to see them grow up. But I guess it would kill you quicker if they didn't.""It's surprising how much memory is built around things unnoticed at the time.""Libraries are the one American institution you shouldn't rip off.""Pain reaches the heart with electrical speed, but truth moves to the heart as slowly as a glacier.""People's dreams are made out of what they do all day. The same way a dog that runs after rabbits will dream of rabbits. It's what you do that makes your soul, not the other way around.""Sometimes the strength of motherhood is greater than natural laws.""Terms like that, "Humane Society," are devised with people like me in mind, who don't care to dwell on what happens to the innocent.""The important thing isn't the house. It's the ability to make it. You carry that in your brains and in your hands, wherever you go... It's one thing to carry your life wherever you go. Another thing to always go looking for it somewhere else.""The truth needs so little rehearsal.""The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope.""Wars and elections are both too big and too small to matter in the long run. The daily work - that goes on, it adds up.""We're animals. We're born like every other mammal and we live our whole lives around disguised animal thoughts.""What keeps you going isn't some fine destination but just the road you're on, and the fact that you know how to drive.""What you lose in blindness is the space around you, the place where you are, and without that you might not exist. You could be nowhere at all."
Kingsolver was born in Annapolis, Maryland in 1955 and grew up in Carlisle in rural Kentucky. When Kingsolver was seven years old, her father, a physician, took the family to the former Republic of Congo in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Her parents worked in a public health capacity, and the family lived without electricity or running water.
After graduating from high school, Kingsolver attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana on a music scholarship, studying classical piano. Eventually, however, she changed her major to biology when she realized that "classical pianists compete for six job openings a year, and the rest of [them] get to play 'Blue Moon' in a hotel lobby." She was involved in activism on her campus, and took part in protests against the Vietnam war. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in 1977, and moved to France for a year before settling in Tucson, Arizona, where she would live for much of the next two decades. In 1980 she enrolled in graduate school at the University of Arizona, where she earned a Master's degree in ecology and evolutionary biology.
Kingsolver began her full-time writing career in the mid 1980s as a science writer for the university, which eventually led to some freelance feature writing. She began her career in fiction writing after winning a short story contest in a local Phoenix newspaper. In 1985 she married Joseph Hoffmann; their daughter Camille was born in 1987. She moved with her daughter to Tenerife in the Canary Islands for a year during the first Gulf war, mostly due to frustration over America's military involvement. After returning to the US in 1992, she separated from her husband.
In 1994, Kingsolver was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from her alma mater, DePauw University. In the same year she married Steven Hopp, an ornithologist, and their daughter, Lily, was born in 1996. In 2004, Kingsolver moved with her family to a farm in Washington County, Virginia, where they currently reside. In 2008, she received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Duke University, where she delivered a commencement address entitled "How to be Hopeful".
In the late 1990s she was a founder member of the Rock Bottom Remainders, a rock and roll band made up of published writers. Other band members include Amy Tan, Matt Groening, Dave Barry, and Stephen King, and they play for one week during the year. Kingsolver played the keyboard, but is no longer an active member of the band.
In a 2010 interview with The Guardian, Kingsolver says, "I never wanted to be famous, and still don't, [...] the universe rewarded me with what I dreaded most." She says created her own website just to compete with a plethora of fake ones, "as a defence to protect my family from misinformation. Wikipedia abhors a vacuum. If you don't define yourself, it will get done for you in colourful ways."
Local eating experiment
Starting in April 2005, Kingsolver and her family spent a year making every effort to eat as locally as possible. Living on their farm in rural Virginia, they grew much of their own food, and obtained most of the rest from their neighbors and other local farmers. Kingsolver, her husband, and her elder daughter chronicled their experiences that year in the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Although exceptions were made for staple ingredients which were not available locally, such as coffee and olive oil, the family grew vegetables, raised livestock, made cheese, and preserved much of their harvest.
Kingsolver's first novel, The Bean Trees, was published in 1988, and told the story of a young woman who leaves Kentucky for Arizona, adopting an abandoned child along the way; she wrote it at night while pregnant with her first child and struggling with insomnia. Her next work of fiction, published in 1990, was Homeland and Other Stories, a collection of short stories on a variety of topics exploring various themes from the evolution of cultural and ancestral lands to the struggles of marriage. The novel Animal Dreams was also published in 1990, followed by Pigs in Heaven, the sequel to The Bean Trees, in 1993. The Poisonwood Bible, published in 1998, is one of her best known works; it chronicles the lives of the wife and daughters of an Evangelical minister on a Christian mission in Africa. Although the setting of the novel is somewhat similar to Kingsolver's own childhood trip to the then Repulic of Congo, the novel is not autobiographical. Her next novel, published in 2000, was Prodigal Summer, set in southern Appalachia, and her most recent work, entitled The Lacuna, was published in 2009.
Kingsolver is also a published poet and essayist. Two of her essay collections, High Tide in Tucson (1995) and Small Wonder: Essays (2003), have been published, and an anthology of her poetry was published in 1998 under the title Another America. Her prose poetry also accompanied photographs by Annie Griffiths Belt in a 2002 work titled Last Stand: America's Virgin Lands.
Her major non-fiction works include her 1990 publication Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983 and 2007's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a description of eating locally. She has also been published as a science journalist in periodicals such as Economic Botany on topics such as dessert plants and bioresources.
Every book that Kingsolver has written since 1993's Pigs in Heaven has been on the New York Times Best Seller List, and her novel The Poisonwood Bible was chosen as an Oprah's Book Club selection.
Kingsolver has written novels in both the first person and third person narrative styles, and she frequently employs overlapping narratives. Many of her works display her thorough knowledge of biology and ecology; for example, the novel Prodigal Summer has extensive commentary on the value of higher predators in ecosystems, and many of her essays in the book Small Wonder are based upon the lessons of biodiversity. Her books are often characterized as having distinct female voices.
Kingsolver's literary subjects are varied, but she often writes about places and situations with which she is familiar; many of her stories are based in places she has lived in, such as central Africa and Arizona. She has stated emphatically that her novels are not autobiographical, although there are often commonalities between her life and her work. Her work is often strongly idealistic and her writing has been called a form of activism. Kingsolver's characters are frequently written around struggles for social equality, such as the hardships faced by illegal immigrants, the working poor, and single mothers. Other common themes in her work include the balancing of individuality with the desire to live in a community, and the interaction and conflict between humans and the ecosystems in which they live. Kingsolver has been said to use prose and engaging narratives to make historical events, such as the Congo's struggles for independence, more interesting and engaging for the average reader.
In 2000, Barbara Kingsolver established the Bellwether Prize. Named after the bellwether, the literary prize is intended to support writers whose unpublished works support positive social change. The Bellwether is awarded in even-numbered years, and includes guaranteed major publication and a cash prize of US$25,000, fully funded by Kingsolver. She has stated that she wanted to create a literary prize to "encourage writers, publishers, and readers to consider how fiction engages visions of social change and human justice."
Kingsolver has been the recipient of a number of awards and honors. In 2000, she was awarded the National Humanities Medal by U.S. President Bill Clinton. Her 1998 bestseller, The Poisonwood Bible, won the National Book Prize of South Africa, and was shortlisted for both the Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner Award. Her most notable awards include the James Beard Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the Edward Abbey EcoFiction Award, the Physicians for Social Responsibility National Award, and the Arizona Civil Liberties Union Award. Her latest novel, The Lacuna, won the 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction. Every book that Kingsolver has written since 1993's Pigs in Heaven has been on The New York Times Best Seller list, and her novel The Poisonwood Bible was chosen as an Oprah's Book Club selection.