Author Barbara Kingsolver reflects on writing in the Appalachian Mountains, climate change and the upcoming novel – West Virginia Public Broadcasting | Directory Mayhem

Kentucky author Barbara Kingsolver is the 2022 Appalachian Heritage Writer-in-Residence at Shepherd University.

Kingsolver has won numerous prizes and awards throughout her career, including the National Humanities Medal, the prestigious Orange Prize for Fiction in Britain and her 1998 novel The Poisonwood Bible won the National Book Prize of South Africa, was on the New York Times Best Seller list for more than a year, and was selected by the Oprah Book Club.

While Kingsolver’s fiction takes readers around the world, she says her Appalachian roots inspire key themes and ideas in her stories. Liz McCormick sat down with Kingsolver to find out more.

Listen to the in-depth conversation below:

EXTENDED: Author Barbara Kingsolver reflects on writing in the Appalachian Mountains, climate change, and the upcoming novel

The following transcript is from the original program that aired October 7, 2022 on West Virginia Morning. It has been edited slightly for clarity.

Liz McCormick: In your own experience, in your own words, what does it mean to be an Appalachian?

Barbara Koenigsloser: For me it means home. It means recognizing and celebrating my own people. I grew up in eastern Kentucky. I left my small rural town as young people do. I’ve lived all over the world on multiple continents, doing low-paying jobs. And as I traveled the world and this country I encountered a lot of shocking stereotypes, a lot of condescension that made me angry, it still makes me angry.

After trying many different places, I came back home to Appalachia and now live on the other side of the mountains in Southwest Virginia. But it’s the same culture. It’s the same language. It’s the same emphasis on community, resourcefulness, and kindness that I’ve come to know and love.

As a writer, I see it as part of my mission to portray ourselves in a way that’s seldom seen and seldom understood outside of Appalachia.

McCormick: Barbara, you have written many different stories, from novels to short stories to poetry; Some of these stories take us all over the world. How do your Appalachian roots influence your writing? As with The Poisonwood Bible, it took place in Congo, how does your background and roots here in Appalachia affect your writing?

King Redeemer: You know, they say that every author really writes the same story over and over again. And if that’s true, my story is about community. If I really examine all of my works, even though I’m working hard to make each one completely new, not just a new location and a new set of characters, but I’m asking a whole new question.

I’ve written about climate change and why it’s so hard for us to talk about it. I wrote, as you said, a book set in Congo about cultural arrogance and what one nation will do to another. So these are big, big questions, sort of urgent, modern issues. But if you get to the heart of each of these stories, it’s about community, what is our duty to our community? How do we belong? How does it belong to us? And how does that play against the really strong American iconography of the individual, the solo aviator, the lone hero that American history is meant to be.

But as a woman and as an Appalachian woman, I always see the other people behind the solo flyer. The people who fueled his plane, the women who packed his lunch. I mean there is no such thing as a lone hero. I am interested in the heroism of people who think themselves ordinary and people who help each other, create families for each other or safety networks for each other, aware of their guilt to their neighbors and their people.

McCormick: I heard you have a book that will hit bookshelves soon on October 18th. And this is Demon Copperhead. I would like you to talk to us about this book, and what can readers expect when they read it?

King Redeemer: A page turner awaits the reader. I live in deep, deep southwest Virginia, the epicenter of the opioid epidemic. So we’re living with that and I’ve wanted to write about this for several years and I couldn’t think of a good way to make this story interesting and engaging for people and readers because it’s a difficult subject. It’s dark, it’s difficult. Children appearing in this environment.

And then I kind of had a conversation with Charles Dickens, and I realized that the way he told the story is like he told David Copperfield. Let the child tell the story. That’s what I realized I had to do. So this boy who is called Copperhead because he has red hair. He has Melungeon heritage, if people know what that is, and he’s the child of a teenage drug-using mother. He was born on the floor of their only wide trailer. And he comes into the world with this savagery – if a newborn can have an attitude, a demon has it – he tells you his story from his point of view, which mostly takes place in his teens and early 20’s when Oxycontin is released in Lee County, where he lives.

But he tells this story in his own voice. In a way that gives the reader just one reason to turn each page, because you need to know how they’re going to get through it. How he will survive because he is a survivor. He’s funny, he’s wild and he’s passionate.

Leave a Comment