Barbara Kingsolver was born on April 8, 1955 in Annapolis, Maryland. She grew up in eastern Kentucky, where her father was a physician for the rural poor. She attended DePaul University in Greencastle, Indiana and graduated with a degree in Biology in 1977. During her college years, she was involved in the last anti- Vietnam protests. A few years later, she obtained a Masters degree in biology and ecology from the University of Arizona in Tucson. Along with authoring numerous novels focusing on the lives of the rural poor of the American Southwest, Kingsolver is a political activist and the author of two nonfiction books concerning social and political struggles in the Southwest. An active storyteller and writer since a young age, in both college and graduate school, Kingsolver took creative writing classes. She began her career as a writer working on feature articles for magazines, newspapers, and science journals. On April 15, 1985 Kingsolver married Joseph Hoffman, a chemist, and became pregnant with her daughter Camille. To fight off the insomnia induced by her pregnancy, she began to write fiction, in a closet at night. After Kingsolver and Hoffman divorced, she married Steven Hopp. Their daughter Lily was born in 1996.
Kingsolver's first novel, The Bean Trees (1988), was followed by Animal Dreams (1990) and then a sequel to The Bean Trees, Pigs in Heaven (1993). The Poisonwood Bible (1999), was followed most recently by Prodigal Summer (2000). She also published a collection of short stories, Homeland and Other Stories (1989), and a collection of poetry, Another America (Otra America) (1991), in both English and Spanish. All of Kingsolver's novels have received numerous awards and honors. Animal Dreams was awarded the Pen/USA West Fiction Award and the Edward Abbey Award for Ecofiction, and it was named an American Library Association Notable Book, the Arizona Library Association Book of the Year, and a New York Times Notable Book.
Kingsolver's novels have attained both academic and popular success. They are widely read and often featured on bestseller lists but also are taught in many college courses. This is due to the fact the Kingsolver writes entertaining, plot-driven stories rich in symbolism, literary innovation, and social commentary. Animal Dreams and several of her other novels fit into the contemporary genre of literature of the American Southwest, which is in many ways an extension of the Western. While physical setting is of great importance to this genre, so are the consideration of rural communities and the importance of the land, in the form of agriculture or environmental themes. In addition, like Animal Dreams, literature of the American Southwest reflects the particular mutli-cultural aspects of the region, where Mexican Americans, Native Americans, and Anglo Americans are in abundance. Although Kingsolver's novels draw on her personal experience and are set primarily in areas she has lived, they are fictional rather than autobiographical. Her work does however reflect the real social and political situations of the areas in which they are set.
The main action of Animal Dreams unrolls in Grace, Arizona. Although Grace is not an actual geographic location, it is based on any number or similar towns in the American Southwest. Like Grace, rural Arizona holds surprisingly fertile farmland, given the arid conditions of most of the Southwest. Bordering Utah, New Mexico and Mexico, Arizona has a significant Mexican American or Chicano population. With seventeen reservations, the state also counts a significant Native American population, most notably Navajo and Apache. Until 1950, copper mining was the most important industry in Arizona. Since then manufacturing has taken over. While Arizona's urban centers hold most of its population and are fairly affluent, the sparsely populate rural areas are some of the poorest communities in the United States.
Nicaragua serves as a global backdrop in Animal Dreams. In the author's note, Kingsolver specifies that her portrayal of Nicaragua and of the US role there are meant to directly reflect the political reality of the 1980s. Nicaragua, whose capital is Managua, is the largest country in Central America. In 1979, the socialist Sandinistas and the National Liberation Front (FSLN) overthrew Anastasio Somoza, ending a 46-year dictatorship by the Somoza family. Headed by Daniel Ortega, the FSLN established a socialist government. They nationalized all of the major industry and launched a number of programs to support small farms through agrarian reform, as well as to establish strong national education and health care programs. The CIA secretly organized and supplied an anti-Sandinista army, known as Contras, and U.S. armed forces conducted joint maneuvers with Honduras and Costa Rica along the Nicaraguan border. Supposedly, these exercises were meant to stop the suspected flow of arms from Nicaragua to rebels in nearby El Salvadoran. In fact, American policy hoped to provoke a revolt that would overthrow the Sandinistas altogether.