Barbara Kingsolver was born on April 8, 1955, in Annapolis, Maryland but grew up in Kentucky “between opulent horse farms and impoverished coal fields.” A born storyteller, she loved telling her mother stories at bedtime, plus writing stories, poetry and essays. Since the age of eight, she has faithfully kept a journal. Though a lover of reading, Kingsolver never intended to be a writer and majored in biology at DePauw University. Graduating magna cum laude in 1977, Kingsolver lived in a variety of places before settling in Tucson, where she enrolled in a masters program in the eighties. As a student she also spent two years living in Greece and France and supported herself as an X-ray technician, housekeeper, archaeologist, copy editor and biological researcher.
Upon completion of her Master’s Degree, she began writing scientific articles which appeared in The New Yorker, The Smithsonian and The Nation. Many of her essays from this time were collected in High Tide in Tucson. The Arizona Press Club honored her with an award for outstanding feature writing in 1986, and in 1995, DePauw made her an honorary Doctor of Letters.
Ms. Kingsolver says she is a shy person who would prefer to remain at home. She admits, however, that her writing has enabled her to meet many interesting people and her scientific writing has helped her develop the discipline required for fiction. A fan once asked if her narratives were drawn from personal experiences (noting that her family spent a year in the Belgian Congo where her father served as a physician when she was seven) and she replied, “I devise a very big question whose answer I believe will be amazing, and maybe shift the world a little bit on its axis. Then I figure out how to create a world in which that question can be asked, and answered…I populate my setting with characters who will act out my theme, scratching their heads in wonderment along the way until their interactions with the world and each other have finally caused them to cry “Aha!” and my question is answered at last.”
Kingsolver has been honored by The American Library Association: for The Bean Trees (1988) and Homeland (1990). Further awards include a citation of accomplishment from the United Nations National Council of Women in 1989, the PEN fiction prize and Edward Abbey Ecofiction Award, both for Animal Dreams in 1991. She has received two “Book of the Year” awards from Book Sense; for The Poisonwood Bible in 2000 and for her non-fiction work, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life in 2008. She was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2000. She has honorary degrees from Centre College and Duke University.
In 1999 Kingsolver founded the Bellwether Prize, about which she said, “Fiction has a unique capacity to bring difficult issues to a broad readership on a personal level, creating empathy in a reader’s heart for the theoretical stranger. Its capacity for invoking moral and social responsibility is enormous. Throughout history, every movement toward a more peaceful and humane world has begun with those who imagined the possibilities. The Bellwether Prize seeks to support the imagination of humane possibilities.” Certainly, the body of her own writing is worthy of such a prize.
Kingsolver resides in southern Appalachia with her family.
The Bean Trees (1989)
In this first novel by Barbara Kingsolver, the young and spirited Taylor Greer has managed to graduate from her local high school in eastern Kentucky without becoming pregnant and even earns enough money to buy an old “beater.” Heading into the West, this wonderful heroine finds an abandoned three year old Native American girl named Turtle. Their journey and eventual settling in Tucson is filled with humor and adventure, as Taylor makes some surprising discoveries about motherhood, friendship, and the need to belong.
Homeland and Other Stories (1990)
This collection of 12 short stories is filled with the same types of people readers have come to love and respect in Kingsolver’s novels. Placing her characters in current dilemmas, the author treats them with compassion and helps the reader understand and appreciate them as they confront life’s challenges.
Animal Dreams (1991)
Native American legends, flashbacks and dreams poignantly reveal the sad life of former doctor Codi Noline. She has returned to her hometown of Grace, Arizona to tend her dying father. At the same time she is forced to confront her own painful past. An environmental disaster threatens the town, but Codi is not so sure where her responsibilities lie, because she is desperately trying to alienate herself from her hometown and all its memories. As the plot unfolds Codi runs into an old lover and some long forgotten people. The latter eventually help her discover her need for commitment and the importance of treasuring one’s past.
Pigs in Heaven (1993)
Turtle Greer, the adopted daughter of Taylor Greer (The Bean Trees) witnesses an accident at the Hoover Dam and brings about the rescue of a man. However, the good stemming from this event soon leads to tragedy for Taylor and Turtle who are forced to leave home. On their journey to uncover the heartbreaking truth of why this disaster has such a powerful effect on their lives, the pair travel from Kentucky to Oklahoma to the Cherokee Nation. A cast of unique, memorable characters, including Turtle’s mother and a young Cherokee lawyer, meet them in this exciting novel which ultimately tests the limits of family, community, and truth.
Another America/Otra America 811.54 KIN (1992)
This is a volume of original poetry published in Spanish and English.
High Tide in Tucson 814.54 KIN (1995)
These twenty-five essays explore Kingsolver’s favorite themes: family, the natural world and community. Her reflections on these topics reveal her as a poet and scientist. In an attempt to make sense of a seemingly chaotic world, Kingsolver introduces the reader to some unusual events and places: namely, a wild pig invading a garden, a paper doll family, a battle of wills with a two-year-old, a West African love charm and the behavior of “oysters at high tide in Illinois.” Her honest, persuasive and earnest writing help one to appreciate life with all its ironies and complexities.
The Poisonwood Bible (1999)
Set in the last half of the twentieth century during the Congolese war of independence, this is a compelling tale of the Nathan Price family who comes to the area as missionaries. The personal experiences of Mrs. Price and her four daughters unfold smoothly throughout out the novel as each character is given her own narrative voice. We come to realize the pain and loss each woman endures as they try to adapt to a completely new environment. The story contains many unusual, wonderful characters and plot twists and provides insight into the political and cultural climate of West Africa during the last century.
Prodigal Summer (2000)
In this somewhat lighter work, Kingsolver takes the reader to a corner of southern Appalachia and the lives of three lonely people struggling against poverty as well as larger social issues such as the ecological damage caused by herbicides and the ethics of growing tobacco. She explores themes of love and passion amidst conflicting interests.
Small Wonder 814.54 KIN (2002)
This book is a collection of twenty-three essays, many written in response to the events of September 11. Whether describing her cabin in Appalachia, the Tucson desert or a lovely beach, the author reveals the same knowledge, love and respect for nature evident in all her stories.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life 641 KIN (2007)
When Kingsolver and her family move to rural Appalachia, they determine to spend a year eating only home- or locally-grown food. The experiment takes them all down new paths of discovery as they learn about growing, harvesting and preserving food. Both meaningful and entertaining, the book is filled with reflections on issues ranging from nutrition, ecology and sustainable farming as well as stories, recipes and the rediscovered pleasures of the table.
In this novel of a man’s search for identity, Kingsolver mixes truth, fiction and historical events from a 20 year period beginning in 1930s Mexico City and ending in 1950s Asheville, NC. Kingsolver weaves her tale through the use of diary entries, newspaper articles and letters. It is an exploration of that which is known and that which is hidden.