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The Bean Trees

Barbara Kingsolver

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Plot Overview

Barbara Kingsolver was born in 1955. She was raised in a part of eastern Kentucky positioned between extravagant horse farms and impoverished coalfields. Although rich imagery of her home state fills many of her novels, Kingsolver never imagined staying in the region. She left Kentucky to attend to attend De Pauw University in Indiana. Kingsolver majored in biology in college and took one creative writing course.

Kingsolver became active in anti-Vietnam protests during her college years, which marked the beginning of her commitment to political and social activism. A few years after her graduation, she went to the University of Arizona in Tucson, where she earned a masters of science degree in biology and ecology. Kingsolver supported herself working at a variety of jobs until she finished graduate school, at which time she got a job as a science writer for the University of Arizona. This job led her into journalistic writing. Her numerous feature stories have appeared in many nationally acclaimed publications. According to Kingsolver, journalism and scientific writing helped her develop good discipline and paved the way for her career in fiction writing.

In 1985, Kingsolver married. After becoming pregnant, she began struggling with insomnia. Her doctor suggested that she scrub the bathroom tiles with a toothbrush to tire herself out. Instead, Kingsolver spent her sleepless nights curled up in a closet writing her first novel, The Bean Trees. The Bean Trees was an immediate success among book critics when it was published in 1988, but more important to Kingsolver, it was also widely read by people from all walks of life. Kingsolver has firmly committed herself to keeping her work accessible; while she hopes that literary types will appreciate her writing, she also wants to know that people in rural Kentucky read and enjoy her novels.

Kingsolver believes in writing that promotes social change. She is committed to social and environmental causes, and The Bean Trees reflects this commitment. Kingsolver’s dedication to literature with a social conscience led her to found the Bellwether Prize for Fiction, which was awarded for the first time in 2000. She continues to work as an environmental and human-rights activist.

Kingsolver’s background in ecology and commitment to activism are evident in The Bean Trees, but she resists further conjecture about her life’s influence on her work. Although her readers are often eager to assume her work is autobiographical, the author claims that only small details come directly from her life experiences; the rest is invented.

Since her first novel, Kingsolver’s work has continued to meet with success. Pigs in Heaven (1993) is the popular sequel to The Bean Trees. Her other novels include Animal Dreams, (1990) The Poisonwood Bible, (1998) which was an Oprah Book Club selection and earned international praise, and Prodigal Summer.

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