Happy Birthday, Barbara Kingsolver, born 8 April 1955
Barbara Kingsolver: Nine Quotes on Writing
- The only way to become a writer is to sit still and write.
- Any writer is well served by learning about the world… The great underestimated source of knowledge for writers is school.
- I learned to write by reading the kind of books I wished I’d written.
- I tend to wake up extremely early with words flooding into my brain. If I don’t get up, they’ll continue to accumulate in puddles, so it’s a relief to get to the keyboard and dump them out.
- The place where I write, upstairs in our farmhouse, has windows facing into the woods. The walls are lined with bookshelves. To avoid distraction, I write on a computer that is not connected to the internet. (I check email elsewhere in the house.) My companions in this room are the likes of Virginia Woolf and George Eliot, who peer down at me from the shelves, and a blue fish named Bruno. They are all very quiet.
- I spend months or years thinking about the shape of a novel and earning the authority to write it.
- I struggle with confidence, every time. I’m never completely sure I can write another book. Maybe my scope is too grand, my questions too hard, surely readers won’t want to follow me here. A novel is like a cathedral, it knocks you down to size when you enter into it.
- Pounding out a first draft is like hoeing a row of corn – you just keep your head down and concentrate on getting to the end. Revision is where fine art begins. It’s thrilling to take an ending and pull it backward like a shiny thread through the whole fabric of a manuscript, letting little glints shine through here and there.
- I spend my days tasting the insides of words, breathing life into sentences that swim away under their own power, stringing together cables of poetry to hold up a narrative arc.
Read our Interview with Barbara Kingsolver
On Writing & Reading – Advice for a Teacher
Writing and reading are the two best ways humans have invented to participate with the larger world. Everybody in school wants to be popular: it’s so utterly human, to long for self-expression and connection with others. I would point out that writing and reading offer those things, and more.
Writing is a kind of social networking in the way that it connects you with other people, but literature asks a bit more from you than Facebook, and offers more mature rewards. A great book can take you anywhere on earth, in the present or the past or the future. It’s the only mode of communication we have that actually lets you become another person by living inside his head, experiencing his problems and hopes.
Fiction is a sort of inter-human magic, allowing you to travel into a scene and feel it tingle on your skin, see it in your mind’s eye and smell it with your mind’s nose! But forming these images from the printed page is a skill you have to develop when you’re fairly young, I think, or else it’s very difficult to read for pleasure later on.
Writing is also a tool you can use your whole life: to help people, make them laugh, change their minds. You can do it for people in faraway countries, even for people who haven’t been born yet. Writing is a way to live forever.
Barbara Kingsolver is an American novelist, essayist, and poet. Her work focuses on social justice, biodiversity, and the way humans interact with their communities and environments. She is the author of 14 books, including The Poisonwood Bible, Pigs in Heaven, and Flight Behaviour. She has received numerous awards, including the Orange Prize for Fiction for The Lacuna and the National Humanities Medal.
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