The Poisonwood Bible | Study Guide

Barbara Kingsolver

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Barbara Kingsolver | Biography

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Early Life

Barbara Kingsolver was born April 8, 1955, in Annapolis, Maryland. Her father, a doctor, often worked in communities with limited access to health care. In 1963, when Kingsolver was seven, the Kingsolver family went to the Congo―a vast country in central Africa. They lived there for two years, amidst the political upheaval caused by the assassination of the Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba in 1961 and other events described in The Poisonwood Bible. Kingsolver saw the Congo as a place of tremendous adventure. She did not recognize the ways in which her personal experiences intersected with Congo's history until many years later.

Beginning in 1973 Kingsolver studied biology in college and then in graduate school at DePauw University in Indiana and the University of Arizona, respectively. She was politically active during these years, protesting against the Vietnam War (1955–75), fought between communist North Vietnam and democratic South Vietnam on whose behalf the United Stated intervened, and President Nixon's administration (1969–74), which was plagued by ethical scandal and a resignation to avert impeachment. She contributed to student and scientific publications, and after graduating she began to work as a freelance writer and journalist. Her work has appeared in periodicals including Smithsonian and the New York Times. Her first novel, The Bean Trees, was published in 1988. Kingsolver published several more works of fiction, as well as nonfiction, before publishing The Poisonwood Bible in 1998. She has a strong interest in food production and consumption and deep ties with nature in all its aspects.

The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible is Kingsolver's best-known and most widely praised book. Like many of her books, it appeared on the New York Times Best-Sellers list. In 2000 Kingsolver received the National Humanities Medal from President Bill Clinton. After the success of The Poisonwood Bible, Kingsolver established the Bellwether Prize for Fiction for first-time novelists writing "socially engaged fiction."

Literary Contributions

Kingsolver has written 14 books and contributed to over 50 literary anthologies. She remains politically active and views her writing as a political act. In a 2010 interview with The Guardian, Kingsolver said, "I don't understand how any good art could fail to be political." She is sometimes criticized for her active voice in politics, but Kingsolver says on her website that she does her best work "through writing and being an active citizen of her own community."
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