Barbara Kingsolver’s books of fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction are widely translated and have won numerous literary awards, including the Women’s Prize for Fiction, awarded to The Lacuna; Flight Behaviour was also shortlisted. She is the founder of the PEN/Bellwether Prize, and in 2000 she was awarded the National Humanities Medal, her country’s highest honour for service through the arts. Prior to her writing career, she studied and worked as a biologist. She lives with her husband on a farm in southern Appalachia.
‘She makes us think, believe, care – all at once.’
‘Unsheltered is a beautiful, stirring novel about the dangers of clinging to old assumptions . . . Kingsolver emerges as a sort of Steinbeck of the precariat, and she may have produced the first great political novel of the Trump era.’
‘Kingsolver has always had a singular ability to weave history, science and storytelling into a seamless and compelling whole . . . What is wonderful about Kingsolver's work is her ability to convey optimism in even the most difficult situations – without ever sugar-coating anything . . . Kingsolver is a writer to treasure, to read and reread: she sees the world as it is, but believes, always, in the possibility of change.’
‘Kingsolver's power lies in her ability to expound big ideas without losing sight of life's pulsing minutiae . . . a wise message for turbulent times.’
‘Kingsolver is a gifted magician of words.’
‘Everything you're sure is right can be wrong in another place.’
‘The flames now appeared to lift from individual treetops in showers of orange sparks, exploding the way a pine log does in a campfire when it is poked. The sparks spiralled upward in swirls like funnel clouds. Twisters of brightness against grey sky.’
‘I attempted briefly to consecrate myself in the public library, believing every crack in my soul could be chinked with a book.’
‘Without a roof over your head, it kind of feels like you might die.’
‘Listen. Slide the weight from your shoulders and move forward. You are afraid you might forget, but you never will. You will forgive and remember.’
Who are Barbara Kingsolver's favourite authors?
Barbara Kingsolver: 'It’s impossible to choose. Margaret Atwood, Jane Austen, Russell Banks, Wendell Berry, Annie Dillard, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Louise Erdrich, William Faulkner, Milan Kundera, Doris Lessing, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Bobbie Ann Mason, Toni Morrison, Alice Munro, Francine Prose, John Steinbeck, Kurt Vonnegut, Eudora Welty, Virginia Woolf. That’s only a partial list, chosen on the basis of career output . . .'
What are Barbara Kingsolver's views on politics and activism?
Barbara Kingsolver: '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 . . .'
To what extent is Barbara Kingsolver's fiction autobiographical?
Barbara Kingsolver: 'Not at all. The plots are not my life, those characters are not people I know, and none of them is me. My job, as I understand it, is to invent lives that are far more enlightening than my own, invested with special meaning. That’s the whole advantage of fiction over life: you get to control the outcome.'
How do you begin a novel?
Barbara Kingsolver: 'I begin by imagining something surprising and important, a question whose answer is not clear to me, but seems vital. Questions like: How do we balance the needs of the individual with the needs of the community, when they’re in conflict? (That became Pigs in Heaven.) How does one make peace with the terrible things one country does to another, when we’ve profited from them but weren’t responsible? (The Poisonwood Bible.) I begin to plot out a story in which characters will face these questions through some conflict or crisis. I write pages and pages of what this novel will be about. Themes, plot, characters. I create life histories for the characters. I list the things I’ll need to research, in order to tell this story. As scenes occur to me, I jot them down without worrying about chronology. The beginning and the resolution will come, once I understand the architecture of the story.'