Barbara Kingsolver Thinks Urban Liberals Have It All Wrong on Appalachia
When Barbara Kingsolver set out to write her latest novel, “Demon Copperhead,” she was already considered one of the most accomplished writers of our time. She had won awards including the Women’s Prize for Fiction and a National Humanities Medal, and had a track record of best-selling books, including “The Poisonwood Bible” and “Unsheltered.” But she felt there was one giant stone left unturned: to write “the great Appalachian novel.”
Kingsolver grew up in rural Kentucky and lives in southwestern Virginia. Appalachia is her home. So when national coverage of her region started increasing in the years since 2016, with a focus on the region’s problems — like deep rural poverty and the opioid epidemic — she felt something was missing. She wanted to write a novel about Appalachia from the inside, as someone who is a part of it and who grew up in it. “The story I wanted to tell was not about the big guys, but about the little people,” she told me.
And if major awards are any indication, Kingsolver succeeded. “Demon Copperhead” won the 2023 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and has been widely acclaimed for the nuanced portrait it paints of life in rural America. So I asked Kingsolver to talk about her background and the book, and to explore the often chasmic dissonance between how many of us city-dwellers think about Appalachia and the reality of living there.
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