Barbara Kingsolver: Biography, Books & Quotes

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  • 0:01 Barbara Kingsolver
  • 0:41 Biography
  • 2:11 Awards
  • 2:50 The Poisonwood Bible
  • 4:30 Animal Vegetable Miracle
  • 6:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Lineberger

Jason has 20 years of education experience including 14 years of teaching college literature.

In this lesson on American writer Barbara Kingsolver, you'll learn about her life, her major literary awards, and a couple of her best-selling books. You can test your understanding at the end with a short quiz.

Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver, prolific American novelist, poet, and essayist, never set out to be famous, but fame found her anyway. Kingsolver once said, 'I never wanted to be famous, and still don't...the universe rewarded me with what I dreaded most.' Heck, she didn't even want a website, but she finally put one up because there were so many fake ones about her on the Internet! She might not want the spotlight, but she's earned it. Kingsolver is a current American writer who is a literary threat on multiple fronts. She's published novels, stories, poems, essays, and book-length non-fiction.


Barbara Kingsolver was born in 1955, and she really started her literary career at the age of 30 when she began publishing as a freelance writer. She's written so extensively that she can honestly claim to have been published in nearly every major newspaper and magazine. Kingsolver has a wealth of experiences to draw upon in her writing. As a child, her family moved to what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa to work on public health matters. They lived there without electricity or running water. Kingsolver also lived in France for a year, and later, after having a child of her own, she spent a year in the Canary Islands.

It's not just that she's moved around a lot; Barbara Kingsolver is a writer who has been exposed to a lot of ideas. She studied classical piano in college but graduated with a degree in biology. She has been both a war protestor and a science writer, and she even has a graduate degree in ecology and evolutionary biology. With a past like that, there's no wonder that her fiction is packed with travel, conflict, politics, and a nice dose of science.

Kingsolver not only rocks at writing, but for a few years, she rocked the stage as part of the Rock Bottom Remainders, a rock band made of famous writers like Amy Tan (Joy Luck Club), Matt Groening (The Simpsons), and some guy named Stephen King.


Barbara Kingsolver has racked up on the medals in her literary career, and some of her awards are rather unconventional. For instance, she is a recipient of the James Beard Award. No, that's not a medal for best facial hair; it's a prize generally reserved for the best chefs in the world. It's also given to the best food writers, and Kingsolver won it for her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Her greatest achievement came in 2000 when President Clinton presented her with the National Humanities Medal, the highest honor in the United States for service through the arts.

The Poisonwood Bible

If you're in high school, or if you've been through the joys of high school English, the Kingsolver book you're most likely to have read is The Poisonwood Bible. This one is about a family from America that moves to the Congo and has to deal with a new culture and a sudden lack of modern conveniences, like electricity and running water. Hey, wait a minute! If you think that sounds like Kingsolver's childhood, you win a prize, but it's really only loosely based on her own experiences.

The book is about a family of missionaries, the Price family. They might look all peachy on the outside, but when they have to deal with the culture shock of the Congo, their flaws come bubbling to the surface. Think back, if you're old enough, to the dawn of competition reality TV - the first big season of Survivor. You have a bunch of people taken out of their comfortable modern environments and thrown onto an island that forced them well outside of their comfort zones.

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