Barbara Kingsolver was born on April 5, 1955, in Annapolis, Maryland, to Virginia and Wendell R. Kingsolver. Her father was a country physician, and Kingsolver grew up in rural Kentucky, where she became aware of the poverty that many people in the area had to endure. As a child, Kingsolver was a voracious reader and wanted to become a writer although she did not believe this to be a realistic goal.
Blessed with musical talent, Kingsolver won a scholarship to study instrumental music at DePauw University in Indiana. It was at DePauw that she became interested in the social and political issues that would later inform her writing. After changing her major from music to biology, which she considered to be a more practical subject for a future career, she graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in 1977. After graduation, she traveled and worked in Europe for two years before returning to the United States.
Kingsolver then enrolled in a doctoral program in evolutionary biology and ecology at the University of Arizona. She completed a master’s degree in 1981, terminated her academic studies, and took a job as a technical writer for the Office of Arid Lands Studies at the University of Arizona.
Pleased with becoming a professional writer, Kingsolver took on some freelance writing work and at the same time began her own fiction and nonfiction. Much of her own writing concerned political causes (such as human rights in Central and Latin America) and environmental issues. Out of her work during this period came her book, Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983 (1989), which was sympathetic to the miners’ cause.
Kingsolver’s first novel was The Bean Trees (1988), in which a young woman escapes her limited prospects in rural Kentucky by moving to Tucson, Arizona, taking in refugees from Central America, and becoming socially and politically aware. Critical response to this autobiographical novel was highly favorable.
Over the next few years, Kingsolver established herself as an important writer in a variety of genres. Her short stories were published in Homeland and Other Stories (1989), and this was followed by another novel, Animal Dreams, in 1990. Kingsolver broke new ground again in 1991 when her first volume of poetry, Another America (Otra America), was published. The poems appeared with Spanish translations alongside them. The novel Pigs in Heaven (1993) was a sequel to The Bean Trees, and this was followed by High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never (1995). Her fourth novel, The Poisonwood Bible (1998), set in the Belgian Congo in 1959, was a national bestseller.
Kingsolver was married to Joseph Hoffmann, a chemist, from 1985 until 1992. They have one child, Camille. In 1995 Kingsolver married Stephen Hopp, an ornithologist and animal behaviorist, with whom she has another daughter, Lily.