Barbara Kingsolver: Biography & Books

Instructor: Megan Pryor

Megan has tutored extensively and has a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Fiction.

In this lesson on American author Barbara Kingsolver, we'll learn about her upbringing, the type of work she has written, the awards she has won, and a few of her most famous books. We'll finish with a short quiz.


Barbara Kingsolver is a well-known author. Since 1985, when she embarked on her writing career, Barbara Kingsolver has published many critically acclaimed and commercially successful novels. Her success 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. She does not just write about these issues, though. She also demonstrates commitment to her values in her actions outside of her writing. She even established a prize for unpublished novels that focus on important social issues.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle By Barbara Kingsolver
Book By Barbara Kingsolver


Born in 1955 in Annapolis, Maryland, Barbara Kingsolver mostly grew up in rural Kentucky, but she also lived in the Congo as a child. Both Kentucky and the Congo feature as locations in her novels. Barbara Kingsolver writes historical fiction, although many of her books also have a lot of scientific information in them because of her strong science background. All of her books deal with the themes of social justice, feminism, and the environment. Barbara Kingsolver primarily writes novels, but she has also written essays, short stories, and poems.

Her books have garnered a lot of commercial and critical success. Her novels have been translated into two dozen languages. In addition to penning several novels that made it onto the New York Times Best Seller list, Barbara Kingsolver has won many awards.

Barbara Kingsolver has been married twice and has two daughters. She lives on a farm in Virginia with her family. In 2005, Barbara Kingsolver and her family experimented with eating almost exclusively local for a year, an experience she details in her book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.


Barbara Kingsolver created the Bellwether Prize for Fiction, which is now known as the PEN / Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction. The prize is given to unpublished novels that deal with important social issues.

In addition to creating this award, Barbara Kingsolver has also won many awards: the National Humanities Medal, the Orange Prize for Fiction, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the PEN / Faulkner Award, a United Nations National Council of Women citation of accomplishment, the National Book Prize of South Africa and the Arizona Civil Liberties Union Award, in addition to being a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.


Originally, Barbara Kingsolver went to college to study classical piano. She changed her major for practical reasons; the job market for classical pianists simply wasn't big enough. Instead, she studied biology. Eventually she went to graduate school in Arizona, where she earned her Master's degree in ecology and evolutionary biology, but Barbara Kingsolver did not give up her musical aspirations entirely. She was a member of the Rock Bottom Remainders, a band formed exclusively by writers such as Amy Tan, Dave Barry, Matt Groening, and Stephen King.


For the first part of her career, Barbara Kingsolver combined her love of writing and her science background and wrote about science for her university. Then she began doing freelance writing for newspapers. Her first fiction publication occurred when she won a short story contest in a local newspaper.

Her first novel, The Bean Trees, was published in 1988. The novel is about a young woman who leaves her rural hometown in Kentucky and travels until her car breaks down. She settles in Arizona and winds up raising an abandoned child she finds during her travels. A lot of Barbara Kingsolver's fiction is based on places she has lived, including both Kentucky and Arizona. Another example of Barbara Kingsolver using locations that are familiar to her is her most famous novel, The Poisonwood Bible, which takes place in the Congo. She lived in the Congo for a short time when she was seven.


The Bean Trees (1988), fiction

Homeland and Other Stories (1989), fiction

Holding The Line: Women In The Great Arizona Mine Strike (1989), nonfiction

Animal Dreams (1990), fiction

Another America (1992), poetry

Pigs In Heaven (1993), fiction

High Tide in Tucson (1995), nonfiction

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