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Volume 26, Number 4 — April 2019

Barbara Kingsolver Wins British Prize

Barbara Kingsolver
Barbara Kingsolver
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Author describes herself as 'The Lady Next Door'


*** This story appeared Tuesday, June 15 in the Bristol Herald Courier. ***

MEADOWVIEW, Va. She describes herself as "the lady next door."

She never wanted fame. She never wanted her face in the newspapers. Barbara Kingsolver just wants to watch her daughter, Lily, grow up at Patrick Henry High School in Glade Spring, Va.

And, well, she wants to write. Each and every day, if possible, this woman from the mountains of Eastern Kentucky wants to be working on something what might turn into another novel.

Even a prizewinner, like "The Lacuna," Kingsolver's 2009 release that was called "powerfully imagined social history" by the Chicago Tribune and "close to a truly perfect book" in the Dallas Morning News.

More recently came even more praise a compliment from England, in the form of a prestigious prize.

Kingsolver, 55, was selected in April as one of six finalists for the Orange Prize for Fiction, a British award given annually to the best novel written by a woman in English.

But that nomination came with a clincher: Kingsolver had to get to England even to remain a finalist.

At the time, her 13-year-old daughter, Lily, was getting ready to participate in a school event. Still, Lily urged her mother to go, as the girl pointed to the past.

Years earlier, in 1999, Kingsolver had actually turned down this same invitation when another of her books had been nominated. At that time, with Lily just a toddler, Kingsolver opted to put parenting first.

"I love writing and doing the very best writing that I can do," she said. "I also have a family and ... the important things to me are my family. Being a mother is important work."

"Almost Forgot"

Just last week, after Lily's urging, Barbara Kingsolver came home from England with the prize in hand. And, she said, "I almost forgot who Barbara Kingsolver was."

Daisy Goodwin, the chair of the Orange Prize judges, said, "We chose "The Lacuna' because it is a book of breathtaking scale and shattering moments of poignancy."

Even with books on bestsellers' lists, this literary award marks a grand achievement for this Meadowview, Va., woman, whose husband, Steven Hopp, serves on the faculty of Emory & Henry College as an environmental science teacher.

Besides obvious prestige, the Orange award also comes with a $47,000 prize that Kingsolver has since donated to her own award, The Bellwether.

Every other year, this author awards this prize $25,000 plus a guarantee to be published to a first-time novelist.

"Old Dead Guys"

Once a resident of Tucson, Ariz., Kingsolver launched her literary career when her first novel was published in 1988, occurring almost simultaneously with the birth of her first child, Camille.

"I feel so lucky to get to do this," Kingsolver said. "I really didn't grow up imagining that I could be a writer for a living. I loved good books, but I thought that they were written by old dead guys from

Since the late 1980s, Kingsolver has cranked out a variety of books, including several critically acclaimed novels, including "The Poisonwood Bible." In fact, that's what she's working on next "a novel," though she won't divulge any details.


The story of "The Lacuna" the winner of the Orange Award takes place in Mexico over the course of several decades, starting in 1929. For this, Kingsolver traveled to Mexico to study archeological sites.

Much of this book also takes place in Asheville, N.C.

"The Lacuna" was a long time in the making, the author said. "The novel is historical and involved an enormous amount of research."

Kingsolver traces its beginnings to 2002, finally culminating in the 2009 release, adding that "the writing and research are somewhat simultaneous."

During this time, in 2004, Kingsolver relocated to Meadowview, though she said her "heart" had already been in the community since the mid-1990s, when she began to spend her summers in the old railroad community in central Washington County.

"So I guess you can say this novel was written by a Meadowview resident in Meadowview," Kingsolver said, laughing. "This is the place that I come home to."

And there, she said, she still remains "the lady next door."

"In modern life, if you become very successful, there's a push," Kingsolver said. "The world really wants you to turn into a full-time celebrity. And I have resisted that."


A! Magazine cover story in 2007:

A! Magazine book review of 'The Lacuna' in 2009:

Read about the Orange Prize and see video of Kingsolver's acceptance speech:

A! ExtraTopics: Literature

Daisy Goodwin, the chair of the Orange Prize judges, said, "We chose "The Lacuna' because it is a book of breathtaking scale and shattering moments of poignancy."