How Barbara Kingsolver makes literature topical — from climate change to opioids — you might not be familiar with her work. But there’s no better way to understand what she does than to talk to her. It’s like traveling into the future, with Kingsolver, with her sharp, sarcastic eye, and her unapologetic embrace of the weird and wonderful — the way she flips culture on its head, and then moves on to something else.
When she’s not writing books or traveling the world, she’s making movies, with several projects coming out in theaters in the next year. It wasn’t until she was a teenager in the early 1990s that she read her first book, and she’s been reading and rereading her favorite books ever since. In her view, the literary canon has expanded since the days she first realized that the characters in her novels aren’t just fictional; she grew up reading Jane Austen novels as well as science fiction and fantasy as she continued her education.
“I like to think of it as this vast conversation we’re having the day we’re born that continues right through to our demise,” she says. “It’s amazing how much we have yet to say to one another about love and friendship and our fear and our love, and if we would even dare to think about it.”
It’s hard to talk as a young person, she says, without feeling that you’re making a mistake by not being young. “I feel like I’m making a mistake not talking to my own age,” she says. It would be different if she were her parents’ age, she says, but she doesn’t have to be, not really.
At the same time, Kingsolver’s own age doesn’t stop her from talking to middle-aged people when she’s on the road, or even from having a conversation with someone who looks older than she is. It’s how she makes sense of it all.
“What is your age range?” she asks.