Barbara Kingsolver: “What a writer can do is re-engage people with their own humanity.”

From the Writer’s Almanac:

It’s the birthday of Barbara Kingsolver, born in Annapolis, Maryland (1955). She is the writer of many novels, stories, and essays, and is known for her use of extensive research. . . .

Always she wrote stories on her own. When she developed insomnia, she took her typewriter into the closet so she wouldn’t wake her husband. She wrote a novel about a woman who ends up with custody of a young Cherokee girl named Turtle. That novel was The Bean Trees (1988). She wrote two more novels, Animal Dreams (1990) and Pigs in Heaven (1993), as well as books of essays and short stories.

For years, she had a folder on her desk that she called the “damn Africa file.” Eventually, she used it to write The Poisonwood Bible (1998). It was a huge best-seller, selling more than 2 million copies, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Barbara Kingsolver said: “The best research gets your fingers dusty and your shoes dirty, especially because a novel is made of details. I had to know what a place smelled like, what it sounded like. … There’s no substitute for that. I’ve been steeped in evidence-based truth.”

And she said, “What a writer can do, what a fiction writer or a poet or an essay writer can do, is re-engage people with their own humanity.” Fiction and essays can create empathy for the theoretical stranger.

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