Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1578
Barbara Kingsolver 1955-
American novelist, short story writer, essayist, nonfiction writer, and poet.
The following entry presents an overview of Kingsolver's career through 1999.
Barbara Kingsolver has attracted a large readership and critical appreciation for creating highly entertaining stories that feature strong, appealing female characters. These stories typically address contemporary social and political evils, from poverty and child abuse to environmental pollution and human rights violations. Her best-selling novels The Bean Trees (1988), Animal Dreams (1990), Pigs in Heaven (1993), and The Poisonwood Bible (1998) revolve around women from rural, working-class backgrounds who struggle to form connections and find their place in society. Through idiomatic prose and compelling storytelling, Kingsolver creates popular fiction that presents strong opinions on contemporary America and its problems.
The daughter of a country doctor and a homemaker, Kingsolver was born in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1955 and grew up in the rural and impoverished town of Carlisle, Kentucky. When she was in second grade her parents moved the family to the Belgian Congo, where her father worked as a physician for a year before returning to Kentucky. In high school the shy and cerebral Kingsolver shared little in common with her rural classmates, few of whom went to college or moved away from Kentucky. She was a talented pianist and won a music scholarship to DePauw University in Indiana, later changing her major to earn a bachelor's degree in biology when she realized career opportunities in music were limited. Kingsolver earned a M.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Arizona in 1981. She began a doctoral program at Arizona but left to take a job as a technical writer for the Office of Arid Land Studies. Later, she worked as a freelance writer and journalist. Much of her writing focused on social issues, including protest against nuclear power plants and drawing attention to human rights abuses in Latin America. Kingsolver married chemist Joseph Hoffman in 1985. While pregnant with her first child, Kingsolver began work on The Bean Trees, which won a 1988 American Library Association Award. Its success helped her to complete and publish Holding the Line (1989), a nonfiction work that she began prior to writing The Bean Trees. She continued to write and publish short stories, many of which appeared in Homeland and Other Stories (1989). She published Animal Dreams the following year, winning the PEN fiction prize and the Edward Abbey Ecofiction Award. Kingsolver later wrote Pigs in Heaven, a sequel to The Bean Trees, published a collection of essays, High Tide in Tucson (1995), and produced her best-selling work to date, The Poisonwood Bible. Kingsolver divorced her first in husband in the early 1990s and married ornithologist Steven Hopp in 1995. She lives with her husband and two daughters, Camille and Lily, in Arizona.
Kingsolver uses her writing to address social and political issues that are important to her. Her working-class characters generally suffer from sociopolitical ills and discover they cannot succeed alone—they must unite with others to triumph over the obstacles they face. Kingsolver's intricate plots unfold quickly, and she alternates points of view between characters, employing humor and witty colloquial dialogue to engage the reader. Kingsolver frequently draws on her biology background to create parallels between the interconnections of the natural world and human society. The Bean Trees traces the journey of Taylor Greer as she travels west from her small Kentucky hometown. Taylor wants to escape the limited opportunities in her rural town and to establish a new life on her own terms. However, she soon becomes the reluctant caretaker...
(The entire section contains 52620 words.)
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