Discussion Topics (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Choose a main character from any novel by Barbara Kingsolver and define the ethical or moral issue that becomes the center of that character’s focus.
Explain how each Price daughter in The Poisonwood Bible reveals her personality through how she tells her version of the story.
Kingsolver defines family in different ways in her novels. Identify nontraditional family arrangements in Prodigal Summer or Pigs in Heaven.
Other Literary Forms (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Barbara Kingsolver is known primarily for her longer fiction, which includes The Bean Trees (1988), Animal Dreams (1990), Pigs in Heaven (1993), The Poisonwood Bible (1998), and Prodigal Summer (2000). She also writes travel articles, book reviews, essays, and poetry. Her nonfiction work Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983 (1989) compellingly presents the plight of miners in southern Arizona’s copper mining “company towns.” She has authored a collection of poetry entitled Another America (1992, 1998). The volume’s form invites awareness of diverse perspectives, with Kingsolver’s poetry and its Spanish translations printed on facing pages. A selection of her essays in High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never (1995) offers thoughts on parenting, home ownership, cultural habits, travel, and writing. Her observations on the natural order of things, from child rearing to exploring a volcanic crater in Hawaii, range from self-deprecatingly humorous to awe-inspired. All celebrate one’s connection to and citizenship of the world.
Achievements (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Barbara Kingsolver has won many writing awards. In 1986 the Arizona Press Club gave her its feature-writing award. She received American Library Association awards for The Bean Trees in 1989 and for Homeland, and Other Stories in 1990. The Edward Abbey Ecofiction award (1990) for Animal Dreams and the prestigious PEN/West Fiction Award (1991) added to her reputation. In 1993 and 1994 respectively, she received the Los Angeles Book Award and the Mountain and Plains Booksellers Association Award for Pigs in Heaven. Her first three novels were New York Times Notable Books and she also received an Enoch Pratt Library Youth-to-Youth Book Award for The Bean Trees. In 1995, an honorary doctorate was conferred on her by DePauw University. True to her activist principles, she founded the Bellwether Prize, given in support of literature promoting social change.
Other literary forms (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Barbara Kingsolver, known primarily for her long fiction, also has written travel articles, book reviews, essays, and poetry. Her nonfiction book Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983 (1989) presents a compelling picture of the plight of miners in southern Arizona’s copper-mining company towns. The form of her poetry collection Another America/Otra America (1992)—with Kingsolver’s poetry and its Spanish translations printed on facing pages—invites cultural awareness. Homeland, and Other Stories (1989), a short-story collection, contains previously published and new work, most of which depicts the vagaries and pressures of different mother/daughter relationships. Some of the stories encompass fathers, brothers, and husbands as well, but all explore how family, past and present, affects the identity and perspective of the main character or the narrator in each story.
Kingsolver’s essays include those in High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never (1995), which present her thoughts on parenting, home ownership, cultural habits, travel, writing, and other topics. Following the national upheaval surrounding the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Kingsolver was asked to edit previous essays and add new material to a volume that she would call Last Stand: America’s Virgin Lands (2002). The book includes photographs by Annie Griffiths Belt and text by Kingsolver celebrating America’s remaining wilderness. In Small Wonder (2002), Kingsolver explores what it means to be a patriotic American and responsible citizen of the world. The essays reiterate her pacifist philosophy and her open-hearted embrace of the American tradition of dissent and active involvement in environmental, domestic, and political issues. Her love of the United States is clear in these works, as is her insistence on the right and responsibility to express one’s ideas.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life(2007), written with her daughter Camille Kingsolver and her husband, Steven L. Hopp, is an intimate look at how Kingsolver and her family made the transition from Arizona to southwestern Virginia. The family committed to growing most of what they would eat and to buying locally grown foods to supplement their diet. The book has recipes, contributed by Camille, and scientific and political information on programs and legislation related to food production, contributed by Steven. It offers stories both hysterical—the sex lives of turkeys—and sobering—the modest gains of farmers who have decided to go organic and the damage done to the land by large agribusinesses.
Achievements (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Barbara Kingsolver has won many writing awards. In 1986, the Arizona Press Club presented her with its feature-writing award. She received American Library Association awards in 1989 for The Bean Trees and in 1990 for Homeland. She also won the Edward Abbey Ecofiction Award (1990) for Animal Dreams and the prestigious PEN Western Fiction Award (1991). In 1993 and 1994, she received a Los Angeles Times Book Award and Mountain and Plains Booksellers Association Award for Pigs in Heaven. She also received an Enoch Pratt Library Youth Book Award for The Bean Trees. In 1995, she received an honorary doctorate from De Pauw University.
Other awards honor Kingsolver’s writings on ecology. In 2003, she won the Earth Day Award from the Kentucky Environmental Quality Commission for her works on timely environmental issues. In 2002, she was honored by Physicians for Social Responsibility and received the Frank Waters Award for her writings on the Southwest. Also in 2002, she was on the PEN/USA advisory board to evaluate the work of contemporary American authors. True to her activist principles, she founded the Bellwether Prize, given in support of new authors writing literature of social change.
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Aay, Henry. “Environmental Themes in Ecofiction: In the Center of the Nation and Animal Dreams.” Journal of Cultural Geography 14 (Spring, 1994). Aay’s comparative study of Kingsolver’s novel and In the Center of the Nation (1991) by Dan O’Brien is one of the few scholarly discussions of Kingsolver’s work.
Cincotti, Joseph A. “Intimate Revelations.” The New York Times Book Review, September 2, 1990, 2.
DeMarr, Mary Jean. Barbara Kingsolver: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999. A good overview of Kingsolver’s work, emphasizing her eco-feminism.
Draper, James P. “Barbara Kingsolver.” In Contemporary Literary Criticism: Yearbook 1993. Vol. 81. Detroit: Gale Research, 1994. A collection of critical views of Kingsolver’s work.
Epstein, Robin. “Barbara Kingsolver.” Progressive 60 (February, 1996): 33-38. An informative interview with Kingsolver; Kingsolver believes that most readers do not think that her writing is overly political; she feels that she has a responsibility to discuss her beliefs with the public.
Fleischner, Jennifer, ed. A Reader’s Guide to the Fiction of Barbara Kingsolver: “The Bean Trees,” “Homeland and Other Stories,” “Animal Dreams,”...
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