Born in Maryland in 1955, Barbara Kingsolver is a novelist, essayist, poet and political activist celebrated for poignant work that interweaves intricate narratives with socio-political themes. With a Master’s degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, her academic background and deep reverence for nature infuse her oeuvre, merging scientific insights with keen storytelling.
In 1998, Kingsolver published her breakthrough novel The Poisonwood Bible, a narrative exploring the complexities of a missionary family’s experiences in the Congo against the backdrop of cultural clashes and post-colonial upheavals. Other notable works – including The Bean Trees, Animal Dreams, Prodigal Summer and Flight Behavior – also delve into pressing contemporary issues, examining themes of environmental consciousness, social justice, and human connection.
This year, Kingsolver was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for the novel Demon Copperhead, a modern retelling of Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield set in opioid-stricken Appalachia. The book also made Kingsolver the first two-time winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, after first being awarded for The Lacuna in 2010.
In a recent episode of the Women’s Prize Podcast, Kingsolver was asked to name five women-penned works that have most influenced her life and craft. From the formative impact of Little Women to the infinite depth of Middlemarch, check out her recommendations below, and complement with Elena Ferrante’s 40 favorite books by women writers.
Barbara Kingsolver’s Reading List
“I can remember exactly where I was, when I read it. And why it had such an effect on me. I was nine years old. I was in the back of a station wagon. And I disappeared into that book. I was in another world… I was Jo March, don’t we all want to be Jo March.” -BK
“When I read it, I was a young woman, I was an adolescent bristling against the constraints of my culture, of my place… [Doris Lessing] was writing about racism. She was writing about sexism and segregation, and these bigger issues that I had never really understood could be the substance of literature.” -BK
Shiloh & Other Stories by Bobbie Anne Mason
‘This book was written by a Kentuckian about people in Kentucky, who worked at Kmart, or the gas station, and they spoke my language and they lived the lives of the people I knew, and this was a very respected book. This was kind of one of the IT books of that year. And once again, in a new way, it blew my mind. I understood all at once that voice comes from authenticity.” -BK
“What she did with this character who begins as a man and becomes a woman, and passes in both directions actually for the remainder of their 300 year life, was so amazing. And it was was surreal. But it was also realistic. When you read that book, it doesn’t read like science fiction or alternative fiction, it reads as realism.” -BK
“If I had to take one thing to a desert island? Well, look, I would take water. Also you’ve got to take a book, and it would be [Middlemarch] because it’s a book of infinite depth.” -BK
(via Women’s Prize for Fiction; photo by David Levenson)
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