Barbara Kingsolver Biography
Barbara Kingsolver seems to have been born to be a writer. In grade school her first published essay, titled “Why We Need a New Elementary School,” was printed in the local newspaper. It outlined the reasons her local school was unsafe and may have helped to secure an improvement bond.
In college, she studied everything from music to science, eventually doing graduate work in evolutionary biology. Though she worked as a scientific writer for the University of Arizona and then as a freelance writer, she finally turned to fiction full-time in the 1980s. Since then, Kingsolver has published twelve novels and won numerous awards, including the 2000 National Humanities Medal.
Facts and Trivia
- Before becoming a full-time author, Kingsolver held many jobs: typesetter, housecleaner, medical laboratory technician, translator, scientific writer, and freelance journalist.
- She wrote her first novel, The Bean Trees, "during the insomniac nights of [her] first pregnancy" at a desk in the closet, so as to not disturb her sleeping husband.
- Kingsolver instituted the Bellwether Prize in 1997, which is awarded biennially to a novel that uses literature as a tool for social change.
- Kingsolver loves to write about people’s relationship to the land. She counts Henry David Thoreau as one of her many influences.
- She was awarded the National Humanities Medal, which was presented to her by President Clinton.
- Kingsolver now lives on a farm in Virginia where she raises chickens, sheep, and turkey and has a huge vegetable garden.
Born in Annapolis, Maryland, on April 8, 1955, Barbara Kingsolver grew up in Kentucky. Her father, Wendell, was a physician, and her mother, Virginia, was a homemaker. Kingsolver, who has kept a journal of personal revelations since the age of eight, learned a sense of community in small-town Kentucky. Community, to her, meant a place where people “grow their own food and know who they could depend on for help.” She writes about community in all of her stories, but she discovered that the reality of community is relatively rare in other parts of the United States. Part of her heritage is Cherokee, and her stories include American Indian characters, history, and issues. She discovered that the community so important to her is fundamental to most American Indian cultures.
After leaving Kentucky for college, Kingsolver deliberately lost her “hillbilly” accent, which prompted ridicule wherever she went. “People made terrible fun of me for the way I used to talk, so I gave it up slowly and became something else. It was later in life, about ten years later, that it occurred to me this language was a precious and valuable thing.”
Kingsolver earned a B.A. magna cum laude in biology from De Pauw University (1977) and an M.S. in biology from the University of Arizona (1981); she has completed additional graduate study. Her university studies began with a piano scholarship, but she switched to biology because it was more practical. She has always written, everything from childhood journals to scientific and technical writing after college. Kingsolver’s jobs have included research assistant in the department of physiology at the University of Tucson (1977-1979), technical writer in the Office of Arid Lands Studies (1981-1985), and freelance journalist (1985-1987). Kingsolver’s late 1970’s activity in the sanctuary movement to help Central American refugees led to writing pamphlets for the cause. Writing gratified Kingsolver, and when she realized that she might make a living doing something that she loved, she turned to fiction. Kingsolver embedded her convictions about United States policies in Latin America and other human rights issues in her narratives, enlivening policy with motive and characters.
In her first novel, The Bean Trees (1988), a young woman leaves home, adopts a child, and becomes politically enlightened. This novel achieved both critical and popular success, as did Animal Dreams (1990), a...
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