Podcast: Barbara Kingsolver in Appalachia


A transcript to this episode can be found online here

“I've been waiting a long time to write a novel about Appalachia. In a way, maybe my whole life… I didn't know when I was growing up in Kentucky that it was a reviled place or a place that was disrespected by the rest of the world. I didn't know that until I went away to college. I was shocked that my accent…my Kentucky origins…made people laugh, and think that it was okay to laugh.”
In this podcast episode, we travel to Appalachia for a conversation with 2023 Fiction winner Barbara Kingsolver. Kingsolver’s sweeping tale Demon Copperhead won the 2023 Fiction Prize. An earlier novel, The Poisonwood Bible, was a 1999 finalist for the Fiction Prize
Appalachia is the place at the heart of Demon Copperhead, but also at the heart of Kingsolver’s life. We meet with Kingsolver on the farm where she lives with her family and their animals, buzzing bees and clucking chickens providing the backdrop for a conversation with Pulitzer Board member Emily Ramshaw, chief executive of nonprofit news site The 19th.
Directly inspired by Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, Kingsolver describes how she mapped her own creation onto the structure of that classic novel, finding echoes of 19th century poverty and abuse in England in current day Appalachia, with its experience of the opioid crisis. Her unforgettable narrator, Demon, was close to her heart. Asked how writing this novel affected her, Kingsolver says, “Many a day I ended feeling so sad, because this is all real. I know it's fiction, of course, but it's made out of truths. Everything that happens to Demon has happened to somebody that I know...” 
Kingsolver shares her own story in this episode too, of growing up where a love of reading and scholarly ambition were attributes to hide, but also where she learned the value of independence. She shares her experiences working as a science writer, and a journalist, covering protests at mines, before she wrote her first novel. She talks about creative inspiration and her own writing process, and her hopes that a novel founded in respect for the culture of Appalachia might contribute to a larger conversation in America. 
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The Pulitzer on the Road Podcast is a production of the Pulitzer Prize Board at Columbia University, in collaboration with the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, and produced by Central Sound at Arizona PBS. The producers are Anna Williams and Alex Kosiorek from Arizona PBS, and Nicole Carroll. Pulitzer Administrator Marjorie Miller is the executive producer.