Barbara Kingsolver

By Kaitlyn Roble


Born in 1955, Kingsolver was raised in Kentucky.  She received degrees in biology from DePauw University as well as University of Arizona.  Since 1985 she has worked as a freelance writer and author.  Before settling in southwest Virginia she lived in Tucson Arizona for twenty years.  Kingsolver has traveled frequently, living in England, France, and Canary Islands also taking work in Europe, Africa, Asia, Mexico, and South America.

She has received many of the following awards:

-Named one of the most important writers of the 20th century by Writers Digest

-Mulitiple awards from the American Booksellers Association

-Multiple awards from the American Library Association

-National Humanities Medal (which is the highest honor given to servers of the arts)

The Poisonwood Bible received a:

-Pulitzer Prize

-Orange Prize

-national book award of South Africa

-as well as an Oprah Book Club selection

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle received the:

-James Beard Award

Publications (in order of publication)

1988-The Bean Trees


1989-Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike

1990-Animal Dreams

1992-Another America

1993-Pigs in Heaven

1995-High Tide in Tucson

1998-The Poisonwood Bible

2000-Prodigal Summer

2002-Small Wonder

2002-Last Stand: America’s Virgin Lands

2007-Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

2009-The Lacuna

Barbara Kingsolver at the Orange Prize ceremony.


“The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. The most you can do is live inside that hope, running down its hallways, touching the walls on both sides.”  -From Animal Dreams (featured quote on her biography website)

“I try to avoid giving advice.  Maybe I’ll offer just this: if you’re a young writer and a smoker, you should probably quit, because that will increase your odds of getting old enough to accumulate wisdom.  That is the main thing readers want, I think: wisdom.”

-Barbara Kingsolver on advice to other writers

Do you consider writing to be a form of activism? Do you think novelists have a duty to address political issues?

“I think of “activism” as a simple action meant to secure a specific result: for this purpose I go to school board meetings, I vote, I donate money, and occasionally fire off an op-ed piece.  But that’s not what I do for a living.  Writing literature is so much more nuanced than these things, it’s like comparing chopping vegetables to neurosurgery.  Literature is one of the few kinds of writing in the world that does not tell you what to buy, want, see, be, or believe.  It’s more like conversation, raising new questions and inspiring you to answer them for yourself.

As a literary novelist I spend my days tasting the insides of words, breathing life into sentences that swim away under their own power, stringing together cables of poetry to hold up a narrative arc.  I hope also to be a fearless writer: examining the unexamined life, asking the unasked questions.  In most of the world, people call that literature.  For some reason, people in the U.S. are fond of putting me in a box labeled “political,” which could mean anything: “this is about the world,” or “this makes me uncomfortable.”  If it means “inclined to change people’s minds,” that seems ludicrous as a category because great literature will always do that.  Fiction cultivates empathy for a theoretical stranger by putting you inside his head, allowing you to experience life from his point of view.  It can broaden your view of gender, ethnicity, place and time, power and vulnerability, things that influence social interaction.  What could be more political than that?

I think the novelist’s duty is to own up to the power of the craft, and use it wisely.”


1. What authors do you feel are subtly hinted at in the excerpt from High Tide in Tucson?  Where does the title come from?

2.  Kingsolver writes about reapplying to the Animal Kingdom “the wonder of it is that our culture attaches almost unequivocal shame to our animal nature. . .” (1074).  Do you see yourself as a human or animal first?  Is there a difference?

3. Do you think literature has the power to “change people’s minds” as Kingsolver has pointed out above or is it just for leisure and entertainment?  Do you feel the literature we have read in class has changed any of your perspectives?


Barbara Kingsolver, MPR talks about being a writer and her hometown

1:17, Barbara Kingsolver accepting Orange Prize and acceptance speech

Barbara Kingsolver, MPR, talks about characters

Barbara Kingsolver, Miami Book Fair on developing imagery

Poisonwood Bible Preview done for English class by another student




About envirolit

Professor of Environmental Literature
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