The Bean Trees: Biography: Barbara Kingsolver
Barbara Kingsolver was born on April 8, 1955, in Annapolis, Maryland. Her father, Wendell, was a physician serving a tour of duty with the U.S. Navy, and her mother, Virginia, was his junior-high sweetheart. Barbara was the middle of three children. When she was young and her father was released from service, the whole family moved to rural Kentucky, where Wendell practiced medicine and the whole family ran a farm.
Barbara's family was extremely close knit. They did not have a lot of material goods, but this taught the young girl the complexities of socio-economic divides. What they did have was love and a commitment to living a principled life. When she was young, her parents took the children to live in Africa, where her father practiced medicine in a remote outpost. Here, young Barbara was an outsider who looked different from and was not immediately accepted by the other children. From this experience, she learned the hardships that outsiders face. Later, her family would live for several months in the Caribbean while Wendell practiced medicine there. Home, however, was rural Kentucky.
When Kingsolver finished high school, she won a music scholarship to DePauw University in Indiana. She had always been a voracious reader, but she saw little opportunity for herself in Kentucky. In college, she participated in the liberal politics of the time, protesting the war in Vietnam and identifying herself as a feminist. She also consciously gave up her Kentucky accent. She also became a victim of acquaintance rape, a crime for which the legal system at the time had little recognition. Kingsolver faced her despair and shame in private.
After graduation, she worked and traveled in Europe. Upon her return home, she bought a used car and moved from Kentucky to Arizona, where she wanted to start a life for herself. She knew no one but quickly found an apartment and a good job. She also joined the Sanctuary movement, which helped Latin American persecuted refugees find safe havens in the United States. She began a graduate program in biology and ecology in 1979, but ultimately decided against an academic life and left the program without completing her dissertation. Yet, her scientific background colors much of her writing, as does the social conscience that was instilled by her early life.
Kingsolver's professional and personal lives began to develop. She worked as a science writer and a journalist. She married Joseph Hoffmann in 1985 and gave birth to a daughter, Camille, in 1987. The sleeplessness of pregnancy gave her the time and motivation to write her first novel, The Bean Trees, which was published in 1988. When her marriage ended in 1992, she was already a successful writer. She traveled to Virginia and met her second husband, Steven Hopp, who would become the father of her second daughter, Lily.
Kingsolver's other novels include Animal Dreams (1990), Pigs in Heaven (1993), The Poisonwood Bible (1999), and Prodigal Summer (2001). A collection of Kingsolver's essays, Small Wonder, was published in 2002.
Barbara Kingsolver now divides her time between Arizona and Appalachia. She continues to publish successful fiction and non-fiction. She also plays in a band called "Rock Bottom Remainders," so named because all the players are successful writers.