Barbara Kingsolver Biography

Writer (1955–)
American novelist and social activist Barbara Kingsolver wrote the best-selling novel The Poisonwood Bible. She was awarded the National Humanities Medal.


Barbara Kingsolver was born on April 8, 1955, in Annapolis, Maryland. She began writing for science journals in graduate school. Her first novel, The Bean Trees, was published in 1988. In 1998, Kingsolver published The Poisonwood Bible, which was short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize. She established and funds the Bellwether Prize for Fiction, awarded to unpublished writers whose works support social change.

Early Life

Barbara Kingsolver was born on April 8, 1955 in Annapolis, Maryland. Kingsolver spent most of her youth on an alfalfa farm in eastern Kentucky. When she was 7 years old, her father, a physician, took the family to what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he worked in public health.

In 1973, Kingsolver enrolled in college at DePauw University in Indiana and was involved in activism on campus, protesting against the Vietnam War. After earning a bachelor's degree, she moved to Soissons, France, for a year. In 1980, she enrolled in graduate school at the University of Arizona, earning master’s degree in ecology and evolutionary biology. She wrote for the university's science journal, which led to full-time freelance feature work.

Commercial Success

In 1988, Kingsolver's first novel, The Bean Trees, was published. She wrote the book at night while pregnant with her first daughter and struggling with insomnia. She then wrote the short-story collection Homeland and Other Stories and the novels Animal Dreams and Pigs in Heaven. The best-selling High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now and Never was published in 1995 and earned Kingsolver an honorary doctorate of letters from her alma mater.

Kingsolver's articles have appeared in a variety of publications, including The Nation, The New York Times and Smithsonian. She has also published a collection of poetry, Another America/Otra America, and a nonfiction book, Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983. In 1998, Kingsolver published The Poisonwood Bible, a story about an Evangelical Christian family on a mission in Africa. The novel became a best-seller and is Kingsolver’s best-known work. It was short-listed for both the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award and was an Oprah’s Book Club selection.

In 2000, President Bill Clinton awarded Kingsolver the National Humanities Medal. Her next novel, Prodigal Summer, set an southern Appalachia, was published in 2000. In 2004, Kingsolver and her family moved to Washington County in rural Virginia. From April 2005 to April 2006, the family recorded their experience in farming and local eating, which was published in the nonfiction book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Another novel, The Lacuna, was published in 2009 and won the Orange Prize for Fiction.

Personal Life

In 1985, while freelance writing in Arizona, Kingsolver married Joseph Hoffman. Two years later, their daughter Camille was born. During the first Gulf War, due to frustrations over the United States’ military involvement, Kingsolver moved with her daughter to Tenerife in the Canary Islands for a year. After returning home in 1992, she separated from her husband and soon after, divorced.

In 1994, the same year that Kingsolver was awarded an honorary doctorate, she married Steven Hopp, an ornithologist. Their daughter, Lily, was born in 1996. In 2000, Kingsolver established the Bellwether Prize for Fiction to support writers whose unpublished works promote positive social change. Kingsolver currently lives with her family on a farm in Washington County in southwestern Virginia.

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