Barbara Kingsolver is an American novelist, poet, social activist and author of the best-selling novel ‘The Poisonwood Bible’. A prolific writer, she was fond of writing since childhood and kept her journal from the age of eight. After receiving a fairly average education, she pursued post-graduation in science but also continued her passion of writing with short stories and essays. At the university, she got involved as a science writer for its journal and also took up a freelancing job in a local newspaper. But it was after winning a short story contest in a local Phoenix newspaper that she displayed her true brilliance as a writer through fiction writing. Since then, she has written many fictional masterpieces and has also received a fair success in writing essays, short stories, and poems. She primarily writes historical fiction, although many of her books also have a lot of scientific information in them because of her strong science background. Her books have garnered a lot of commercial and critical success which is due, in part, to the fact that she dedicates both her writing and her life to causes she cares about, including social justice and environmentalism. Her novels have been translated into two dozen languages and she has a cult following among the readers over the years. Her literary works continue to inspire, educate and entertain the readers, and she continues to receive appreciation for her flawless and exceptional writing.
Childhood & Early Life
She was born on April 8, 1955 in Annapolis, Maryland, to Wendell R. Kingsolver, a physician, and his wife, Virginia, a homemaker. She spent most of her childhood in the rural areas of eastern Kentucky.
When she was seven, her family moved to Congo Léopoldville (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Her parents worked at a public health capacity and used to live without electricity or running water.
After completing high school, she attended college in the DePauw University, Indiana, on a musical scholarship though she later switched to science. She became involved in social activism in college and protested against the Vietnam War. In 1977, she graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in science, majoring in biology.
After graduating, she traveled to France for a year and finally settled in Arizona. In 1980, she got enrolled at the University of Arizona and earned her master’s degree in ecology and evolutionary biology.
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Initially, she tried working at numerous jobs such as a copy editor, archaeologist, x-ray technician, housekeeper, biological researcher and translator of medical documents.
Subsequently, her writing career began when she started working on the University of Arizona’s journal, as a science writer. Along with it, she also did some freelance feature writing for the local alternative weekly, the ‘Tucson Weekly’.
From 1985 to 1987, she worked as a freelance writer. Her first fiction novel ‘The Bean Trees’ was published in 1988 which received critical as well as commercial acclaim.
In 1989, she wrote a non-fiction work titled ‘Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983’. In subsequent years, she published her short story collection ‘Homeland and Other Stories’ (1989), and the novels ‘Animal Dreams’ (1990) and ‘Pigs in Heaven’ (1993).
In 1992, she published a collection of poetry titled ‘Another America/Otra America. She published her bestseller ‘High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now and Never’ in 1995.
She published several other literary works including her novel ‘Prodigal Summer’ (2000), her essay collection called ‘Small Wonder: Essays’ (2002) and another book titled ‘Last Stand: America's Virgin Lands’ (2002).
In 2007, she published another non-fictional work titled ‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle’. Her critically acclaimed novel ‘The Lacuna’ was published in 2009.
In 2012, she published her seventh novel, a New York Times Bestseller, ‘Flight Behavior’.
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In 1998, she published her most critically acclaimed novel ‘The Poisonwood Bible’, a story about an Evangelical Christian family on a mission in Africa. The novel became a best-seller and is considered her best-known work.
Awards & Achievements
In 1994, she was conferred an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from her alma mater, DePauw University.
She was awarded the National Book Prize of South Africa for her bestselling novel ‘The Poisonwood Bible’ (1998). She was also shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner Award for the novel.
In 2000, she received the ‘National Humanities Medal’ by the then U.S. President ‘Bill Clinton’.
In 2010, she became the winner of ‘Orange Prize for Fiction’ for her novel ‘The Lacuna’.
In 2011, she was awarded the ‘Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award’.
In 2014, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Library of Virginia to recognize her outstanding contributions to literature as a Virginian.
She is also the winner of several other notable awards including the ‘James Beard Award’, ‘Los Angeles Times Book Prize’, ‘Edward Abbey Eco Fiction Award’, ‘Physicians for Social Responsibility National Award’ and the ‘Arizona Civil Liberties Union Award’.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1985, she married Joe Hoffman, a chemistry professor at the University of Arizona and gave birth to her daughter, Camille, in 1987. The couple got divorced in 1993.
In 1994, she married Steven Hopp, an ornithologist. They were blessed with a daughter, Lily, in 1996.
In 2000, she established the ‘Bellwether Prize for Fiction’ to honor extraordinary writers whose unpublished works promote positive social change. The award includes guaranteed major publication and a cash prize of US $25,000, fully funded by her.