Barbara Kingsolver: 2019 National Book Festival

Barbara Kingsolver: 2019 National Book Festival


>>Carla Hayden: Thank
you and good afternoon and how are you enjoying
the festival [applause]? It has just been [applause]–
just truly wonderful and going from place to place and
all the ages and people and everything, it’s
just wonderful. So, I just wanted to–
actually I’m butting in and taking this opportunity
to– to come and just thank you and say hello to all of
the fiction stage writers and the fans of the writers. It’s a real treat and for me, because I’ve already heard
recently from today’s author, our next author, Miss
Barbara Kingsolver. [ Applause ] And she’s one of
the most engaging and consistently relevant
fiction writers and I just want to put a plug in for– are you
going to do question an answer?>>Mandalit del Barco: Yes.>>Carla Hayden: Please someone
ask her about poetry [laughter]. That’s all I’m going to say. Please. So please welcome with NPRs wonderful
Mandalit del Bareo.>>Mandalit del Barco:
Del Barco.>>Carla Hayden: Del Barco. I got the Margalita.>>Mandalit del Barco:
That’s okay.>>Carla Hayden: Who will
be interviewing her, and– and you’re in for a treat. So, thank you so much. [ Applause ]>>Mandalit del Barco:
Thank you. This is a packed house. Wow.>>Barbara Kingsolver: Hi.>>Mandalit del Barco:
And I saw the line for the book signing
too was like–>>Barbara Kingsolver:
I had to dash. I got some exercise.>>Mandalit del Barco: Oh right. Yeah.>>Barbara Kingsolver: I ran
from the basement to here.>>Mandalit del Barco:
Well thank you. Thank you to– to everybody for
being here and I’m so thrilled to do this today and
to meet you finally.>>Barbara Kingsolver: Yeah.>>Mandalit del Barco: I thought
we would have met before, but–>>Barbara Kingsolver:
You would think, yes.>>Mandalit del Barco:
Yeah, exactly. But– but because
you’re here I assume that you all know how incredible
an author Barbara Kingsolver is and you may have read her books,
The Poisonwood Bible, yeah. [ Applause ] Or The Bean Trees. [ Applause ] Or– or maybe one of
the other dozen or more than a dozen books–
books that you wrote. My favorite is The Lacuna.>>Barbara Kingsolver:
Thank you.>>Mandalit del Barco:
And I just– I just– isn’t that fabulous [applause]?>>Barbara Kingsolver:
Thank you.>>Mandalit del Barco: Yeah. I just– I loved reading
your account of Frida Kahlo. That was so fun. Today though, we’re going to
talk about your latest novel, Unsheltered, which is
actually set in New Jersey, half of it during the age
of President Donald Trump. So–>>Barbara Kingsolver: Almost. Pre.>>Mandalit del Barco: Pre. Pre, but just–>>Barbara Kingsolver:
Yeah, just pre.>>Mandalit del Barco:
Very prescient.>>Barbara Kingsolver: We can– we can call it set in the
modern era [laughter].>>Mandalit del Barco: I
mean, I think 2016, right.>>Barbara Kingsolver: Yeah. The book came out in 2017,
so I was writing it–>>Mandalit del Barco:
You were writing it–>>Barbara Kingsolver: For the
four years previous to that.>>Mandalit del Barco: Yeah. Interesting.>>Barbara Kingsolver: So. Mm-hmm.>>Mandalit del Barco:
So, and you might know that Barbara Kingsolver
grew up in rural Kentucky.>>Barbara Kingsolver: Mm-hmm.>>Mandalit del Barco:
As a child. She and her dad– she and her
family lived in the Congo. Your– her dad was a doctor. She plays the piano and she
knows quite a bit about biology, having studied at DePaul
University, having worked for a medical school
as a lab technician, and having taught the subject, including theoretical
population genetics. She’s worked on archeological
digs in Europe. She’s travelled to
Africa, Australia, Latin American for long stints.>>Barbara Kingsolver: Mm-hmm.>>Mandalit del Barco: Am
I getting this all right?>>Barbara Kingsolver: Yes yes.>>Mandalit del Barco: Yes. She has lived in Arizona. She was a single mom, like I am. She has been an activist and
she was a journalist, like I am. She and her husband
fixed up their bungalow in Tuscan, is that right?>>Barbara Kingsolver: Mm-hmm.>>Mandalit del Barco:
And live in their– in their 100-year-old
farm house in Virginia. And many of these details
explain some of the details of her latest book, Unsheltered. The novel–>>Barbara Kingsolver: You’re
suggesting I have experience with falling down
houses [laughter]. I do.>>Mandalit del Barco: Well
that is one of my questions.>>Barbara Kingsolver: You know,
nothing gets lost in your life. You all– you can always use it.>>Mandalit del Barco: Right. Well, in this book– in this
book, I’m going to explain in case you haven’t read this,
but I encourage you to read it. Actually, how many people
have read this book? Quite a lot, yeah. So, this novel, I just want
to explain to them in case– in case– just so you
have a background. This novel goes back and forth
in alternate chapters set in two different time periods,
one just after the Civil War in 1871 and the other in
2016, and both stories are set in the little town of
Vineland, New Jersey. So back in the day, college
professor, Thatcher Greenwood, he’s forbidden to talk about
the works of Charles Darwin, but he also befriends a woman
scientist named Mary Treat. The town was founded as a sort of non-alcoholic utopia
by Charles Landis.>>Barbara Kingsolver:
Oxymoron, you might think, but–>>Mandalit del Barco: Yeah,
man who he challenged the theory of evolution and other
scientific theories and he’s all– Landis is
challenged by a newspaper man, who’s something of a renegade. So, then you fast-forward
a few years, just as– just before Donald
Trump becomes president, though his name is
never in his book.>>Barbara Kingsolver: I didn’t
want to get those tweets.>>Mandalit del Barco:
Yeah [laughs]. [ Laughter ] Yes, but we all know who
you’re talking about. But– so, in this book, Willa
Knox, a former journalist, and her husband, who’s a college
professor, they find themselves down on their luck living in
a house that she inherits, the same house that Thatcher
Greenwood back way back then once lived in, and it is
literally falling apart; it’s in shambles, and
they live with his father and their daughter and
their baby grandson and all of them are such
fascinating characters. I would like to ask
you what inspired you to write this novel
in the first place?>>Barbara Kingsolver: Well,
as you say– as we established, I was writing– I started
writing this in about 2013, 2014, and, you know, I– I was kind of casting around
for my next subject and– and it seemed like
my next subject was like what the heck [laughter]. Is– is this the end of
the world as we know it? And this was– you know, this
was five years ago and more. It just seemed very clear to
me that suddenly a whole lot of things that we’ve always
counted on as being true, just these truths that we hold to be self-evident,
were no longer true. The rules just didn’t
seem to hold anymore, things like civil governments,
that there will always be, you know, a pension at the
end of a job, a job at the end of a college degree, all
of these– you know, we– we have learned that if
we followed the rules and do the right
things, it will be okay and our politicians will behave,
you know, in a civil way, and that the ice on the
polls will stay frozen and that there will always
be more fish in the sea, and all of a sudden
none of that was true. And that seemed like a big
subject [laughter] and– and– and a worthy one,
because the domain of a novel is really
not current events; that’s– that’s your job. The domain of a novel is the
territory of the human psyche. And so I wanted to write about
like how we behave, what do we– what do we do in times
like these and why? And why is it that people can
go very different directions, either kind of reaching for
solutions or kind of like, you know, going into
the pumpkin shell and– and sort of hunkering down
on what they already know and insisting that the world is
going to be like it used to be. So, I thought it
would be interesting to find some other time in
history where there was another like WTF era, you
know [laughter]. And– and I settled on
just after the Civil War when this country
was wrecked upon– you know, really split apart. It was polarized along
very much the same lines that it’s polarized now for many
of the same reasons, in fact, if you really kind
of– if you examine it. And then into that world
[inaudible] sales– sale these two books
by Charles Darwin, which really undermined the
very idea of what it means to be human and the rules– the most important rule
everybody had counted on, which is that God put us
here to control the earth, not that we are part
of the earth that has its own
rules that control us. That– it’s hard to– I mean I know the– I
know there are people who are still debating this
stuff, but [laughter]– but it’s– it’s hard for us now
to imagine how scary that was when it really was a new idea.>>Mandalit del Barco: Right.>>Barbara Kingsolver: That the
natural laws applied to us too. So I thought it would
be interesting to take– to create a set of
characters in that era and one in this era dealing with all
of the problems that I just, you know, enumerated and
put them in the same house and have the house
falling down and just– to see if I could find
these common denominators of the psyche about, sort of,
what we do, like sort of what– what– what drives us
to do the things we do, right or wrong, in
these hard times. So that’s how I– that’s
how I started, and I wanted to find some real
characters who were engaged in the Darwinian debate
and I, just by luck, I found one that nobody had ever
heard of, which is Mary Treat. Mary Treat was this– this
19th century naturalist; she was self-taught, as you
had to be, you know, in– if you were a woman you weren’t
allowed to go to college. She– she trained herself. She studied– she
studied plants, insects, she did all these experiments
and she had the moxie to just write to all the
important scientists of the day, including Charles Darwin,
and they wrote back. And she– she– she had this–
she left a legacy of writings. Natural History Scientific
publications and also popular ones she wrote for like the Atlantic
Monthly and Harpers. Imagine if you could write
about, you know, caterpillars for the Atlantic Monthly, but
[laughter] back then, you know, people were interested
in caterpillars. So, anyway, so I found her and there was very
little known about her. I– I could only work out that
she had lived in Vineland, New Jersey, so I
called up the ant– the Historical Society
and said do you have any– have you heard of
this Mary Treat? And– and there was sort of like
the phone dropped, you know, I could hear the sound of stun–
somewhat a stunned librarian who said you won’t believe
what we’ve got; come and look. And so, I did.>>Mandalit del Barco: Wow.>>Barbara Kingsolver: And I
found these very deep archives. Mary Treat died without
children so she left everything to the Historical Society. So I found, not only, this very
rich interesting character, but also this whole cast of
characters, including, well, she had– she had an interesting
life; her husband ran off after a– chased after a
suffragette who believed in free love [laughter] and–
and she was like go on with you, you know, more– more room
for my experiments [laughter]. That was just kind of
the ideal situation for a 19th century woman to
have a husband who’s just, you know, gone. [ Laughter ] So, she could do her stuff. And she was very interesting. I got her personality from
her letters and her writings and stuff, but also, I had no
idea that this town of Vineland, founded, as you say, as a–
as a– a temperate utopia, was founded by this
character Charles Landis, who was this megalomaniac, who
found ways to use immigrants to do all his hard work, while
at the same time reviling him. He owned hotels. He broke all his own rules. He had this odd flop of hair. [ Laughter ] I’m not making this up. I couldn’t [laughter]–
I couldn’t make this up. And he– he ran this community
in a way that like he made laws that put money into the
pockets of all of his friends, and I just thought
this– this is too good. And then [laughter]– And then I got to the
part where he actually, Charles Landis actually
shot somebody on Main Street [laughter]
and got away with it. So–>>Mandalit del Barco: Yep.>>Barbara Kingsolver: So,
I had to write this book.>>Mandalit del Barco: History.>>Barbara Kingsolver:
And so, yes. Yeah, like that could
never happen again. And– and– and– and I
will remind you this was all in the win– the winter before– I was writing this in the two
years before the election. So, I was just watching this
strange new way of being ri– come up on the horizon and
watching how people played into it and comparing that
with how people chose to follow or not follow Charles Landis. It just opened the door for
a really interesting plot. It just really explored
all the themes I wanted. So, the– the fun of the novel,
the craft of the novel was to take these two stories and
interleave them so that chapter by chapter, you know,
the chapter kind of hook into each other through
language, through conversations,
through plot. And then, before you
know it, you’re– instead of reading two stories
you’re reading one story, so.>>Mandalit del Barco:
Fascinating. Fascinating. And I’m sure that you– you
went to the same Vineland, what is it, the Historical
Society.>>Barbara Kingsolver:
Antiquarian Society. This is how, self-consciously,
Charles Landis founded Vineland. The first building he
built, after he lay out all the streets, named
them for himself [laughter]. Then he built a historical
society so that the newspaper, which he wrote and
edited and published, could go into the historical
society from issue number one. So, you know, he
was very, you know, like a lot of mirrors
around this guy. So, it was great for
me as a researcher because I had everything. I had every, you know, the
full record of this place, which now has become, ideally,
for my novel, kind of really run down and, you know,
economically stagnant and all of the problems that, you
know, that we now have. So– so then I just had to walk
around and kind of get the vibe of modern-day Vineland
and figure out how to– you know, how to
put it all together.>>Mandalit del Barco: Yeah,
I looked on Google maps and found Vineland and tried to
look at– to find this house, which you made it up of course, it’s a parking lot,
right, next to a–>>Barbara Kingsolver:
You are correct.>>Mandalit del Barco:
Next to a lawyer’s office.>>Barbara Kingsolver: You
don’t– yeah, that’s right. You know, and I purposely
chose an address that was a parking lot
because, you know, this– think about it; this
is not a kindness to put somebody’s real
house in a novel [laughter]. Knock knock knock. So yeah– so I always do. In Lacuna I did the same thing. I– I put– to jump
to another novel, I put Harrison Sheppard’s
house on a street in– in Ashville that’s
in between like a– a parking lot and the Chamber
of Commerce, so that there’s– you know, so it’s not
a real house there.>>Mandalit del Barco:
Nobody can complain.>>Barbara Kingsolver:
People won’t– yeah.>>Mandalit del Barco: Yeah.>>Barbara Kingsolver: So,
we won’t get like, you know, like literary tourism
or whatever [laughter]. Heaven forbid.>>Mandalit del Barco:
Well I wonder though, if people are going to Vineland
to like look up the research that you did and look for
the house and, you know.>>Barbara Kingsolver: Maybe.>>Mandalit del Barco:
Any of you done this?>>Barbara Kingsolver: Maybe.>>Mandalit del Barco:
Anybody live in Vineland?>>Barbara Kingsolver: I– I–
I actually did– I did an– I’ve heard from people
in Vineland.>>Mandalit del Barco: Yeah.>>Barbara Kingsolver: I
did, when I was on book tour, I did a– well I guess the
closest is I did an event in Philadelphia and
this whole crew of Vinelanders came [laughter].>>Mandalit del Barco: Wow.>>Barbara Kingsolver:
And they were, you know– you know, moderately pleased,
although– although they said, you were not very nice to
our founder, Charles Landis.>>Mandalit del Barco:
Oh [laughter].>>Barbara Kingsolver: And I
said, well he kind of like did that to himself [laughter].>>Mandalit del Barco: Right.>>Barbara Kingsolver:
And recorded it, so.>>Mandalit del Barco: Yeah. But they’re still–>>Barbara Kingsolver: But
it– you know, it is funny how, even infamy has its
own kind of appeal.>>Mandalit del Barco: And they’re still
supporting Charles Landis.>>Barbara Kingsolver: They have
a Charles Landis day every year.>>Mandalit del Barco: Oh wow.>>Barbara Kingsolver:
Where people dress up and–>>Mandalit del Barco: And they
shoot somebody on Main Street.>>Barbara Kingsolver: Maybe they shoot
[inaudible], I don’t know. But, you know, it’s interesting. But no, I never imagined that I would write a
novel set in New Jersey. I just– I mean, nothing
against New Jersey, it just wasn’t my place, but
that– once, you know, I– I’ve– this is how I write
novels; I first think about what I want to write
about, kind of the ideas, the themes, and then I
construct a plot and then I try to find the place
where that belongs and this novel had
to be in Vineland. There was–>>Mandalit del Barco:
Had to be.>>Barbara Kingsolver:
It had to be, so.>>Mandalit del Barco:
And– and it’s amazing, because if you wrote
it in 2013-14–>>Barbara Kingsolver:
Yeah, finished in– yeah, it came out
in– yeah, a year ago, so I finished it
at the end of 2017.>>Mandalit del Barco:
Finished writing it?>>Barbara Kingsolver: Right. Correct.>>Mandalit del Barco: So,
this was before Trump even–>>Barbara Kingsolver:
Yeah, yes, before he was–>>Mandalit del Barco: Before he
announced that he was running.>>Barbara Kingsolver: When
people– yes, when people– well, he had announced, but people were still
saying, ha, Trump. Yeah.>>Mandalit del Barco: In
fact, I would love for you to read this passage because it
really– it’s pretty amazing. You have– can you–
can you indulge us here.>>Barbara Kingsolver:
Sure, of course.>>Mandalit del Barco:
Yes, thank you.>>Barbara Kingsolver: I can.>>Mandalit del Barco:
Here you go.>>Barbara Kingsolver:
Alright, so, in the– in the modern era the family
is– Willa Knox is the– kind of the mother
of this family and she has this daughter Tig. She has two millennial kids,
one of them did everything right and he’s still unemployed. The other one, Tig is– she’s one of those
kids who we would say– what my mother always said about
me, which is if you threw her in the water, she would
float upstream [laughter]. That’s Tig. She just is driving her
mother and father crazy. She’s living, of course, back home because she
doesn’t have a job either. But– but she’s just
so oppositional and– and irritating [laughter] and
annoying and the only person in the family that
she really gets along with is the crotchety old really
foul-mouthed republican grandpa, Papu. They’re a Greek family
so they call him Papu. So, okay, where is the– ? Okay, yeah, here we are. So there– she’s
talking– so Willa and ar– so Willa sees that Papu is– he’s just got his TV on
Fox News all the time and he’s just loving this
guy, this new guy that– that everybody’s talking about. And she says, I don’t– I
don’t get it, you know, why– why does he like this guy? She says, I don’t–
I sure don’t get it. Papu loves this billionaire
running for president who’s never lifted
a finger doing anything Nick would call work. Who– why that guy? Tig says, because rich
white guys are supposed to be running the world. Papu thinks this dude
must have put in the time and gamed the system
to get his billions because that’s how
it works in America. So, it’s his turn
to be president. What Papu can’t stand is
getting pushed out of the way by people he doesn’t even
think should be voting, never mind getting jobs
or benefits or whatever. Willa says, never
mind the White House. Definitely that, Tig says. He thinks those people
are cutting into the line ahead of him. How can black and brown people
get to have nice stuff and be in charge of things,
or women, god forbid, when Papu didn’t
get his turn yet. Tig was studying the
laptop screen as she spoke, with a wide eyed, eyebrows
up concentration face that Yano claimed was
exactly like Willa’s. They’re trying to figure out how
to get the family on Medicaid. Tig could– Willa
couldn’t see it, but of course you never
really saw yourself. This particular brand
of tyrant though. Yikes, Willa said. I can’t take him seriously. He’s going to burn out before
the first primary [laughter].>>Mandalit del Barco: Actually,
the next paragraph too.>>Barbara Kingsolver: Oh. Oh.>>Mandalit del Barco:
Can we do the next one?>>Barbara Kingsolver: Oh, okay.>>Mandalit del Barco:
Sorry, there’s–>>Barbara Kingsolver:
Oh, where is it?>>Mandalit del Barco:
Two forty-eight.>>Barbara Kingsolver: Okay.>>Mandalit del Barco: Sorry.>>Barbara Kingsolver: And– and
Tig says– and, you know, Tig, of course, is like as horrified
by all this as everybody else, but A, she gets it, she understands why Papu
likes the guy, and– and B, she later points out
Papu’s going to die pretty soon. He’s really not in
charge of anything. Okay, so Willa says,
he’s going to burn out before the first primary. Tig says, don’t count on it. There’s a lot of white
folks out there hanging on to their god given
right to look down on some other
class of people. They feel it slipping
away and they’re scared. This guy says he’s bringing
back yesterday, even if he has to use brass knuckles to
do it and drag women back to the cave by their hair. He’s a bully; everybody
knows that. But he’s their bully.>>Mandalit del Barco: Yeah.>>Barbara Kingsolver: So, yeah. At the time– [ Applause ] That’s– that’s–
it’s interesting. That’s not really a typical
passage of this book, but it’s– it’s a conversation that I
wrote, mind you, when I didn’t– I really couldn’t imagine
this bully was going to do anything but burn out. And I thought at times, well
if he goes away completely, you know, that’ll be, you
know, bad for the book, but [laughter]– but
good for the world. So, things kind of
went the other way.>>Mandalit del Barco:
Yeah, ver– but kind of amazing
that you wrote that before all of
what we’ve seen. Anyway, I don’t want to editorialize here
but very prescient. But, you know, I
actually– I actually– in the book, I really
identified with Tig, Antigone.>>Barbara Kingsolver: Uh-huh.>>Mandalit del Barco: When
she talks about– she talks– she does a lot of recycling
and she talks about, you know, saving the earth
kind of thing, and–>>Barbara Kingsolver: Mm-hmm.>>Mandalit del Barco: When
she describes a perfect date that she had in Cuba.>>Barbara Kingsolver: Mm-hmm.>>Mandalit del Barco: And
I just love this passage because she’s talking about–
well what– tell us what– I mean, it is so great. She– her perfect date
is going to this– this restaurant where they
use this 100-year-old china.>>Barbara Kingsolver:
Yeah, everything is– well Tig has spent some time
in Cuba and she’s just come– some years, actually, and
the family didn’t even know where she was. And so, then she’s kind of
washed up at home again, and she doesn’t really
talk very much at all with her mother about– or her
family about her time in Cuba. It’s a mystery. And it’s only– and– and
there’s just a lot of conflict between the mother and
daughter in the book. I mean, novels are made of
relationships and it’s really– you know, I kind of hate to pick
out just a passage that’s about, you know, the unsayable man
who lives down the road, because the novel’s
really about– about families and
multi-generational, sort of, how– how families figure out
how to love each other and how to forgive each other and
how sometimes we learn from people younger than we
are in spite of ourselves. I think that this–
I think of this– this novel as my love
letter to millennials, because I have two millennial
kids and I’m really tired of hearing people
blame the millennials for everything [cheering]. I mean, you know, they’ve ruined
dating and they’ve ruined, you know, conversation and they’ve ruined I
don’t know what, avocados. I mean give me a
break [laughter]. Look what we’ve ruined
and are leaving them. So it was really
important to me to– to create this
multi-generational family and have these conversations
across the generations to sort of suggest that those of us who
are older would be well to– to remember that– that
as– as Tig points out, the people running things
right now, formed their notion of this nation, this
world, our– the– the resources that
we have available and the way we should use them
and the way we, you know, have– we are able to use
them and so forth. How to– how to run the
world, they formed their idea of that in the 1950s and 60s. It was– it was a
different world.>>Mandalit del Barco: Right.>>Barbara Kingsolver: All of
those rules don’t apply anymore. So, tomorrow’s problems
are not going to be solved by yesterday’s people. But that’s– that’s a hard thing to just declare,
you know, to anyone. None of us wants
to feel obsolete. So, I wanted to write a lot
about these conversations that have in families. So I guess I really didn’t
get to Cuba, but anyway– anyway, Tig surprised her mother
by finally revealing some– some of– some of the things
that happened in Cuba and some of the things she learned and
some of the things she loved, and she actually also had
an enormous heartbreak, and I don’t want to–
since only like half of you haven’t read the book, I
don’t want to have any spoilers, but, you know, every– it was
important for me as the author to love every person
in this book, even crotchety old
foul mouthed Papu who’s like this– he’s so profane. When I– my husband is my
first reader and when I– when I wrote a couple of
chapters and gave to him and he read this extremely
profane character rumbling, he said, mm, Barbara, this one
is not going to get adopted in the high school curriculum. [ Laughter ] And that’s okay.>>Mandalit del Barco:
Although all those– you know, the younger siblings of the millennials might
appreciate it too, to read it.>>Barbara Kingsolver: Well that
doesn’t mean they can’t read it, it’s just their English
teacher probably won’t–>>Mandalit del Barco: Right.>>Barbara Kingsolver:
Their English– their par– the English teacher and
parents won’t want them to read.>>Mandalit del Barco: Right.>>Barbara Kingsolver:
But anyway. Anyhow. And like– so, but I
had to love all these characters because they have to be
represented honestly and fully and I– I live– I live in
Virginia but it’s as far from here as you can get
and still be in Virginia. I live in Appalachian, Virginia. I live among the people
who are not helping to make this a blue state, or
the purple– I live on the– like the purpler end of things
down there, and not entirely. I have many progressive
friends as well. But I also understand
my neighbors and I understand their fear,
their fear of being obsolete, of being replaced, of sort
of having worked hard to– and the feeling that it’s
their turn now and they’re– they’re being passed up. All of those things I
wanted to sort of translate into a character that
would ultimately, you know, maybe merit some
of your sympathy. I think that it’s a book
about the conversations that we’re not having and
we’re not going to get anywhere until we– until we do.>>Mandalit del Barco:
Yeah, so, one of the things that Tig tells her mother
is, she says the thing is, the secret of happiness
is low expectations.>>Barbara Kingsolver:
Yeah [laughter].>>Mandalit del Barco: Yeah.>>Barbara Kingsolver: Yeah.>>Mandalit del Barco: But to
live, you know, not so freely with the, you know,
wasting things and–>>Barbara Kingsolver: Well,
fundamentally, this growth, you know, it’s just–
it’s just baked into us. It’s so many of us have
just lived our whole lives on the assumption
that the definition of a good life is
having more and is– you know, and the definition
of a good economy is growth and that, you know, consumption and growth are what
make the world better. Ev– all of the– all of the
laws of our, you know, our– our– our production
and our economy are sort of based on that, simply that. So– so she’s coming
up, you know, younger, and she’s watched
this whole thing and she’s watching the
world run out of stuff and– and it seems quite
clear to her in a way that I think it’s very
hard for it to clear, to be clear to older people
that you can’t grow forever. There are– there are limits. So anyway, and we haven’t
even talked about the– the 19th century characters.>>Mandalit del Barco: Well that’s what I wanted
to ask you about too.>>Barbara Kingsolver: Okay. Okay.>>Mandalit del Barco:
Because in– in– so, in 1871, I guess
it’s set, right. There’s references to fake
news and science deniers.>>Barbara Kingsolver: Yeah.>>Mandalit del Barco:
Back then.>>Barbara Kingsolver:
There were– there were a lot of those. There was a lot of
that going on.>>Mandalit del Barco: Yeah. And there’s one part where the
character Thatcher Greenwood, he debates what evolu– the
Darwin’s theory of evolution, and– and it really reminds me of the Scopes monkeys
trial, you know.>>Barbara Kingsolver: Yeah,
but it was 30 years before that.>>Mandalit del Barco: Yeah.>>Barbara Kingsolver: Yeah.>>Mandalit del Barco: So,
it’s– like how– was it– was that going on all over
the place or just like– ?>>Barbara Kingsolver:
It really was. There were people who were
making the, sort of the– the, you know, the–
the global concert tour of like how wrong Darwin is. Poor Darwin. He was just this sweet
old guy who, you know, observed the world very closely. And after about 35 years of observing the world very
closely, he wrote a couple of books, and I’m
sure, you know, he put them into the
world saying this is just so simple people. If you– if you look closely,
this is the unifying principle that makes all of the
world, you know– all of– all of the natural
world make sense. This is the unifying principle that we have waited
so long to find. I’m sure he was thinking,
you’re going to love this. [ Laughter ] And they really didn’t. He got a lot of hate mail. So– so, yes, they were–
people were very invested in– in Darwin– you know, denial
of Darwin’s principles that– of natural selection
and change through time, and people burned Darwin in
effigy on the public squares. They were so threatened by the
notion that just fundamentally that we’re not in charge,
that there are laws that we can’t control.>>Mandalit del Barco:
Natural laws.>>Barbara Kingsolver:
Yeah, natural laws. And we’re still struggling
with that one. You know, you put
enough carbon up there, it’s going to heat things up
whether you like it or not. You know, it’s– it’s
pretty– yeah, so it was– it was interesting to me to
see the parallels and basically to see how– how fear– fear–
fear makes us run for shelter, and to write about just that
idea of being sheltered, that in both senses
that shelter is– is, you know, being sheltered
means being naive, being, you know, sort of
closed off from– from– from the truth, from the world. But without shelter, also, we
feel like we’re going to die.>>Mandalit del Barco: And
you say– and you say– repeatedly in the book, you say, without shelter we
stand in daylight.>>Barbara Kingsolver: Yeah,
that’s what Mary Treat says.>>Mandalit del Barco: Right.>>Barbara Kingsolver: And she– she and Thatcher
become good friends because she’s the only person
he can talk with about what he– you know, his passion
for biology and the next-door neighbor,
she’ll listen and she– and they have this
argument because he’s going to lose his job, you know,
if he talks about evolution. And she’s like, well, okay, but
it’s true, you know [laughter]. She’s one of– she’s one of
those people, those rare– I think she really ways
one of those rare– really rare people who doesn’t
worry what people think of her. She just does what
she’s supposed to do. Okay, is 10 minutes, that’s like how much time
we have total left? Okay.>>Mandalit del Barco: Oh, okay.>>Barbara Kingsolver: Oh.>>Mandalit del Barco:
Well we need to–>>Barbara Kingsolver: We’re
just having so much fun up here.>>Mandalit del Barco:
We need to hear from you.>>Barbara Kingsolver: We
would love to– pardon me? [ Inaudible Response ] Okay. Okay.>>Mandalit del Barco: Oh, okay.>>Barbara Kingsolver: Oh well
good, we’ve got free time. Yay.>>Mandalit del Barco: Oh wow.>>Barbara Kingsolver:
But we– I would love to–>>Mandalit del Barco: Yeah,
why don’t we hear from–>>Barbara Kingsolver: To take
questions from the audience.>>Mandalit del Barco:
Yeah, why don’t we do that? Do we have people set up for–
I think there’s two microphones?>>Barbara Kingsolver:
Okay, and, yes– and before you ask your
question, I’m going– the best in– intro
I ever got to a Q and A session was my moderator
said, before you’re asked– before you ask your question, ask yourself, what
is a question. [ Laughter ] [ Applause ]>>Mandalit del Barco: I’ll
have to remember that one. That’s a good one.>>Barbara Kingsolver: So, yes.>>Audience Member: Question.>>Barbara Kingsolver:
Okay, I think you’re– yeah.>>Audience Member:
Alright, hello.>>Barbara Kingsolver: Yes.>>Audience Member:
Sorry, she told me to go. Alright. So I just– you
had mentioned earlier that when you came up with the
concept for this book you felt like all the rules, everything
was changing and the things that we were told, the rules
that we were supposed to follow and the patterns
we were supposed to follow just didn’t apply
anymore, and I myself, I’m trying to break into the
business of being an author and I feel that resonated with
me so much with self-publishing and the whole idea that,
you know, you get an agent and then you get a publisher and then you make money
just doesn’t really seem to be fitting.>>Barbara Kingsolver: Right.>>Audience Member: So, I was
just curious what you thought about that, what you
think about the way that the publishing
industry and the industry of being an author is changing.>>Barbara Kingsolver: That’s–
that’s an interesting question. I’m– I’m probably
not– I’m probably not– I’m not an expert,
because I’m very lucky. I have the same– I mean
I’ve had the same publisher since the beginning, I have
an agent, I have a publisher. It’s all– for me, I just
write the books and all of that takes care of itself. It’s– there are many different
ways now that people can– many more platforms that
people have from, you know, everything from, you know, the
self-published book to the blog, to the Twitter account,
to so on and so forth. I think– I think there are
some units of information that people seem to gravitate
toward no matter what, and one of them is the novel. I’m very– I have a great belief
in the durability of the novel, because it was invented,
you know, I mean, in the western world,
400 some odd years ago, and it has really stayed– it stayed about that same
during all that time. Whether it was– whether it
was published on sheepskin or whether it was, you
know, published on paper or whether now it’s, you know,
read on your tablet, this form, this length of a– like a
long story that has a set of plausible characters
who work out a big thing. People seem to like that. You know, decade after
decade, century after century, the novel has– has persisted. So, I think that novels
will stick around. There’s something about that
form people really like. You all like novels, right.>>Audience: Yeah.>>Barbara Kingsolver: Yeah. Yeah [applause]. And– and there are many other
things that you can read, shorter things, you know,
flashier things with, you know, video parts. But– but still we
come back to the novel and what I think it
does for us, uniquely. I’m not exactly, but sort
of answering your question. What a novel does for us that
nothing else can do is that it– it takes us inside
another person’s brain. Think about that. You can read the news,
you can watch a movie, you’re looking at information. When you pick up a novel,
you’re putting your life down on the nightstand, you’re going inside these
other people’s brains. The narrator of this novel
is you, and so you have that person’s children and you
have that person’s worries; you live another life. That’s a profound
act of empathy. And there’s something about us,
you know, that the human animal that wants that, that craves it. I mean not everybody reads
novels, I hear [laughter]. But a lot of us do and a
lot of us keep coming back to that– to that form. Si I think that however
they’re published and I think– and I think that I appreciate
having editors and publishers and sort of a set of arbiters
who will kind of winnow out the, you know, the chaff and– and so that I can rely on a
certain kind of, you know, set– set of standards that has
brought a novel to me, and then, you know, the people
who do the service of– of reviewing them and all. But I just– I believe
in the novel. I write other things. But when I write a
novel I feel like just– regardless of the subject, just
giving people the opportunity to enter other lives and see the
world through other eyes I feel like that’s a political act and
I appreciate all of you for– for doing your part of that, because it’s– it’s
a partnership. The work of art is half
done when I write it and you do the other
half when you read it and you make it your own.>>Audience Member:
Thank you so much.>>Barbara Kingsolver:
So, thank you. [ Applause ]>>Mandalit del Barco:
Get somebody on that side, now, maybe.>>Barbara Kingsolver: Yes.>>Audience Member: Hi. I’m one of those millennials
that grew up reading your books, so thank you for
saying nice things about millennials [laughter].>>Barbara Kingsolver: Thanks. You’re welcome.>>Audience Member: I remember
first learning about the concept of refugees through
reading The Bean Trees. I’m wondering, with that in
mind, if you’ve had an eye to what’s going on on
the southern border today and if you plan to
address any of that in future anything
that comes up?>>Barbara Kingsolver:
I think that so many– there’s so many immigrant
stories suddenly all around us from, kind
of, from every border. I lived in Tucson, Arizona,
so I was on the Mexican border for 20 years, and so that’s–
I mean I really grew up there. I– I grew up in Kentucky. I moved to Arizona, southern
Arizona as a rather naive person and I received an
education in, you know, another America I would say,
and I wrote a book of poetry, called Another America,
and I– I’m s till– you know, I still have
friends there, I pay attention to that border, I have
strong feelings about the– that desert and the people
who are still working in the sanctuary movement
to help save lives of the people who– who
die crossing that desert. But I– in terms of
my own work, I don’t– I don’t know what novel I’ll
write next, but I do find that immigrant stories of every
kind are emerging so vividly because we– we’re a
nation of immigrants. And we– it’s– it’s so
moving to be in the city, to see the beautiful
constructions of people who– who– who made a country
on the basis of ideas. Well, I’ll just say, for
example, last night I was in the Jefferson
Building of the– of the– the Library of Congress; there
was a gala for us authors there, and I was looking at that
ceiling, which is like– it’s like– people,
it’s the Sistine Chapel over there [applause]. It’s amazingly beautiful and we
were all looking at each other and saying, they built
this for books [laughter]. This– this– and– and
they built these libraries and these buildings for,
not just books, but for– for ideas, an idea of a nation
that could– could– could– could– could make
itself free, could re– could have a constitution
that would allow itself to become year by year
a more perfect union, by becoming more inclusive,
by giving, for example, 100 years ago, right about this
month, women the right to vote. By making [applause] all
of our citizens fully free. This– this is what
we are and that– that’s not going to
get erased in– in a– in a handful of years. That can’t. It’s– this is– this is
an inspiring city to visit. It’s– I know that people come
and go, you know, they move in, they move out, but what made– what made the city is what makes
this country great and I think that reading books and that–
those acts of empathy that I– that I earlier mentioned,
the capacity we have to imagine other lives and
hold them as equal and valuable to our own, that’s what
makes us who we are; that’s– that’s America. [ Applause ] Are we– so somebody has to
tell me, are we out of time? Wrap it up I’m told.>>Mandalit del Barco: Do we
have time for one more or no?>>Barbara Kingsolver:
Do we have time for one question or not?>>Mandalit del Barco:
Okay, one more.>>Audience Member: I have
one and a half questions. So, the first question
is did you make up or actually research the
many creative swear words and curses in Unsheltered? And the second question
is about your first book, Holding the Line, and I just
literally stumbled on it, the non-fiction section
of the library, an old beat up copy
and loved it. And I wonder if you thought
about revisiting those people or those stories in
fiction or not; it seemed, again, so relevant today.>>Barbara Kingsolver:
Well thank you. My first book. I didn’t hear completely all
the question, but my first– my first book, believe it or
not, was a non-fiction book. It was a– it was about women who held together a mine
strike in Southern Arizona. I was– I was a cub
reporter and I kept going out to cover the strike
and I kept going back and kept going back and
talking to these women until they started calling me that gal that’s writing
the book about us. So, I thought, oh, I
guess I have to do that. And then, of course, nobody–
nobody wanted to buy it. But then after I wrote a
nov– I mean, really, nobody. But then I wrote a novel
and that went pretty well. And then– then that book
was published second, but I wrote it first. Yes, of course, I always– I
always think about those people, I always think about the
things I’ve written in the past and I wonder, you know,
where those people are, the living ones and
even the ones I made up, like where’s Taylor Grier
now, don’t you wonder? But I always want to move on. I always want to
do something new. And so, since you didn’t ask, I
will tell you that my next book, coming out next September
is a collection of poetry.>>Mandalit del Barco: Nice.>>Barbara Kingsolver: So that–
that is– and I know it’s– like a lot of people
don’t read poetry but I think– I wish we would. I wish we were more of
a poetry reading people, because language is such a
valuable part of what we have to offer each other and to– and
to communicate with each other. And I’m really supposed
to wrap it up now, so [laughter] I’ll tell– and I’ll just tell you
my other project is, this always surprises people;
I’m working on a mini– I’m adapting the
Poisonwood Bible as a miniseries for television.>>Mandalit del Barco:
Yeah, that’s great. [ Applause and Cheering ] Can’t wait to see that.>>Barbara Kingsolver: So–
so, I’ve got lots to do, but don’t worry, I will write– I will keep writing
novels, because–>>Mandalit del Barco: Yeah.>>Barbara Kingsolver: Because–>>Mandalit del Barco: Yeah.>>Barbara Kingsolver:
Apparently humans need them. And I– and I thank you
for being here in this– in this castle of liter– of
literature, and I thank you for your love of
books, for your love– your support of not
just me but all authors, for passing that love on
through your families. There– as long as we
read, there is hope for us.>>Mandalit del Barco: Yes. [ Applause ] And thank you. [ Applause ]

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