Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Barbara Kingsolver, April 13, 2016

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:01 - Reflections on relationship between place and writing

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Partial Transcript: Okay, so it's April 13, 2016. I'm with Barbara Kingsolver at her home in southwestern Virginia.

Segment Synopsis: Kingsolver reflects on how her relationship with the land/farming, her relationship with creative expression/writing, and her identity as a mother all influence one another.

Keywords: Creativity; Desk work; Farming; Health; Life balances; Mothers; Passions; Physical labors; Placemaking; Places; Reflections; Rural life; Rural lives; Writers; Writing processes

Subjects: Agriculture; Authors; Farmers; Mothers.; Place attachment; Rural; Women farmers; Writing

00:07:22 - How farming influences her writing and vice versa

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Partial Transcript: Does that filter in--[Kingsolver coughs]--to the content of what you write?

Segment Synopsis: Kingsolver talks about how she balances her farming and writing careers, and specifically how being a farmer and scientist influences the content of what she writes. She says that being a farmer makes her a better writer, and being a writer makes her a better farmer.

Keywords: "The Bean Trees"; Biological processes; Contents; Education; Farming; Fictions; Financial pressures; Food production; Growing foods; Hardships; Influences; Isolation; Lands; Nonfiction; Novels; Readers; The Farm Bill; Writers

Subjects: Agriculture; Authors.; Biology; Employment; Farmers; Food.; Novelists; Occupations; Writing

00:13:02 - National attitudes towards farming

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Partial Transcript: Does that make you think that, um--I mean that makes me think maybe there's been too much of a segregation between the idea of thinking and communicating on the one hand and then farming on the other hand...

Segment Synopsis: Kingsolver talks about how attitudes towards farming have changed over the past few generations as there was a push for more modern lives with less manual labor.

Keywords: "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle"; Community; Farming; Food systems; Grandparents; Green Revolution; Gyms; Health; Industrial food pipelines; Modern; Physical labors; Post-WW2; Post-WWII; Post-World War 2; Post-World War II

Subjects: Agriculture; America; American history & government; Culture; Employment; Farmers; Food; Generations; Labor.; Occupations

00:19:28 - Her childhood experience with farming

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Partial Transcript: But in a personal way, I suppose I feel lucky that I was never--for whatever reason I was never infected with dirt phobia.

Segment Synopsis: Kingsolver talks about her childhood growing up on a farm. She talks about exploring with her brother and growing their own food in their personal garden plots, and how this cultivated a large sense of personal responsibility and growth of self-esteem.

Keywords: Adult supervision; Brothers; Children; Crawdads; Dirt; Exploring; Farm productions; Household economies; Household economy; Nature; Neocapitalist; Onions; Outside; Play; Rewards; Self-esteem; Trees; Vegetables; Work

Subjects: Agriculture; Childhood; Farmers; Food; Gardens; Growing up.; Parents; Traditional farming

00:25:20 - Talking about how she enjoys the productivity of farming

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Partial Transcript: It's interesting what you say about, you know, sitting down at the table and eating your, your brother's onions that, you know, from the beginning you had a sense of story attached to the food that you were eating.

Segment Synopsis: Kingsolver shares how farming is a creative, productive, controllable, and predictable activity. She talks about how it is important to her to feel productive. She compares this to the productivity of being pregnant and growing a human being.

Keywords: "The Lacuna"; Creativity; Growing processes; Happiness; Husbands; Interruptions; Kentucky Wonder beans; Natural history of foods; Peas; Planting; Pregnancy; Productivity; Rain; Seeds; Stories; Wendell Berry; Writers

Subjects: Authors; Childhood; Farmers; Food; Gardens; Novelists; Traditional farming

00:32:36 - Writing and political engagement

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Partial Transcript: So this is reminding me of something I read about "The Lacuna" that you were, you were addressing this, this concept of American political, um--American artists' reluctance to embrace the political.

Segment Synopsis: Kingsolver talks about the hesitancy of American artists to be political. She argues that she believes it is individual responsibility to push for change and growth.

Keywords: Activism; Arts; Carlisle (Ky.); Constitution; Cultures; Desegregation; Farming; Gay rights; Governments; McCarthy era; Nations; Political metaphors; Politics; Women's rights

Subjects: Art--Political aspects; Artists; Authors; Political ethics; Political science; Politics and culture; Social justice; Work.

00:39:49 - Contradictions of writing and doing something useful as a career

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Partial Transcript: Well, I, I, I guess, I, I also read that you were working on "Lacuna" for maybe a few years and then you wrote "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" and then you went back to "The Lacuna."

Segment Synopsis: Kingsolver postulates how writing "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" in the middle of writing "The Lacuna" may have influenced each novel. She also talks about the different ideas of art as craft and art as useful. She explains that as a child she never saw being a writer or artist as something which was a future career possibility.

Keywords: "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle"; "The Lacuna"; Arts; Crafts; Diego Rivera; Frida Kahlo; Historical novels; Modernism; Useful arts; Writing

Subjects: Authors; Farmers; Novelists; Poetry

00:47:48 - Becoming a writer

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Partial Transcript: At what point did you become aware of yourself as a writer?

Segment Synopsis: Kingsolver tells the story of beginning to share and perform her poems and short stories in her 20s, and how those experiences allowed her to eventually view herself as writer.

Keywords: Poems; Poets; Science and culture; Self-identity; Short stories

Subjects: Authors.; Novelists; Poetry; Science.; Writing

00:50:07 - Applying to graduate school / dissertation topic

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Partial Transcript: 'Cause when I applied to graduate school--I, I lived in Tucson for a few years, uh, just working, um, at whatever jobs I could get.

Segment Synopsis: Kingsolver talks about how graduate school forced her to keep her artistic life very separate due to the culturally common belief that science and creativity should not come together. She also explains her dissertation topic.

Keywords: Dissertations; Ecology; Evolutionary biology; Graduate schools; Publications; Scientists; Termites

Subjects: Altruism; Education, Higher; Higher education; Poetry; Science.; Universities and colleges--Graduate work

00:56:47 - Her thoughts about the word 'agrarian' / writers who influenced her

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Partial Transcript: Okay, you mentioned Thomas Jefferson a little while ago--

Segment Synopsis: Kingsolver explains her thoughts about the word "agrarian" and talks about the writers that have influenced her work.

Keywords: "Agrarian writer"; Agrarian; Consumers; Farming; Influences; Lands; Meanings; Producers; Writers

Subjects: 20th-century America; Agrarians (Group of writers); Authors; Berry, Wendell, 1934-; Fiction; Food; Gould,Stephen Jay.; Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826; Science writers; Slavery; Traditional farming; Writing

01:04:15 - Wendell Berry / Kentucky writers / early agrarian writers

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Partial Transcript: How did that--I'm, I'm interested in following up about Wendell Berry because he's been, he's been, um, so important to kind of my conception of this project...

Segment Synopsis: Kingsolver tries to remember when Wendell Berry first had an influence on her. She also talks about how Kentucky writers are unique, and mentions early agrarian writers from other regions.

Keywords: "I'll Take My Stand"; Agrarian traditions; Agrarian writers; Civility; Kentucky region; Kentucky writers; Politeness; Rural life

Subjects: Abbey, Edward, 1927-1989; Agrarians (Group of writers); Authors.; Berry, Wendell, 1934-; Country life; Food; Kentuckian; Kentucky--Rural conditions.; Traditional farming--Kentucky; Writing

01:11:12 - Women in agrarian literature

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Partial Transcript: So--and, and I think one more question area.

Segment Synopsis: Kingsolver talks about writing about women in agrarian literature and how she is influenced by the behind the scenes work that women often do in farm and community life.

Keywords: Agrarian writers; Domesticity; Farming families; Feminists; Kitchen work

Subjects: Agrarians (Group of writers); Authors.; Feminism; Housewives; Traditional farming; Women; Women writers; Writing