Kingsolver, Barbara (1955- ), American writer, best known for her ability to weave together the lives of middle-class characters with controversial political themes. Her novels—notably The Bean Trees (1988), The Poisonwood Bible (1998), and Prodigal Summer (2000)—typically focus on characters with close ties to the natural world and explore issues of the environment, family, and social responsibility.
Barbara Kingsolver was born in Annapolis, Maryland, and grew up in rural Kentucky. After graduating from Indiana’s DePauw University in 1977 with a B.S. degree in biology, she lived in Greece and France for two years. In 1981 Kingsolver earned an M.S. degree from the University of Arizona in biology and ecology. She worked as a freelance writer in the 1980s, winning an Arizona Press Club award for outstanding feature writing in 1986.
Kingsolver’s first novel, The Bean Trees, about a young woman from Kentucky who moves West, was an immediate critical success. She followed this with Animal Dreams (1990), a family drama set in Arizona, and Pigs in Heaven (1993), a novel about ethnic identity. Kingsolver’s first collection of poetry, Another America: Otra America (1992), includes Spanish translations of her original poems, most of which address Latin American political issues. In 1995 she published High Tide in Tucson, a bestselling collection of essays about family, community, and the natural world.
The Poisonwood Bible was a critical and popular success that established Kingsolver as a distinguished author. It departed from her previous novels, all of which had been domestic dramas set in the South or Southwest, to relate the story of a fanatical American missionary who moves his family to the politically unstable Belgian Congo in 1959. Told from the alternating points of view of the man’s wife and four daughters, the book exemplifies Kingsolver’s ability to construct a personal story about social justice.
In 2000 Kingsolver was awarded the National Humanities Medal for distinguished service through the arts. Small Wonder (2002) is a collection of Kingsolver’s essays, most of which were written in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.