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Barbara Kingsolver’s Kentucky Memories

In season 10 of Kentucky Life, bestselling author Barbara Kingsolver talked about how her childhood in Carlisle, Kentucky, influenced her writing.

“Where I grew up, there were so many things to love,” says Kingsolver. “The maplewoods, the alfalfa fields behind our house where the meadowlarks sang every morning. The stories that came along with everybody and everything. The extraordinary ways that people take care of each other in a small town.”

However, rural Kentucky has its darker sides, too, and Kingsolver acknowledges their impact as well.

“There were things that broke my heart,” she says. “A grade school that was falling down on our heads. A lottery of limited prospects that took down one classmate after another while we were trying to grow up. And a map of the world where hard-working farm families struggled to survive just a stone’s throw from the Bluegrass horse farms where horses lived like royalty.

“I write because of the things I loved and the things that broke my heart,” Kingsolver says.

Kingsolver’s novels, including bestsellers like The Bean Trees, The Poisonwood Bible, and Prodigal Summer, often center on family, community, and the interdependence of people on each other. Kingsolver studied biology as an undergraduate and has a master’s degree in ecology and evolutionary biology, and her science background influences her work as well.

“There’s enough empty stuff in the world,” says Kingsolver. “There are enough books in the world. I can only presume to write another one if it’s going to be about something that’s really important to me; something I wish everybody would think about and maybe change. And so I figure out what it is I need to do and then I invent characters who will do it.

“I appreciate being able to do for a living work that I love,” says Kingsolver. “Influence is a remarkable thing. The universe has handed me this enormous megaphone and it’s a privilege and it’s a responsibility. I feel obliged to use it since I have it – to use it wisely and well.”

This segment is part of Kentucky Life season 25, episode 14. Watch the full episode.