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Seeds of Change

Critical Essays on Barbara Kingsolver

Priscilla Leder

Publication Year: 2010

Barbara Kingsolverʼs books have sold millions of copies. The Poisonwood Bible was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and her work is studied in courses ranging from English-as-a-second-language classes to seminars in doctoral programs. Yet, until now, there has been relatively little scholarly analysis of her writings. Seeds of Change: Critical Essays on Barbara Kingsolver, edited by Priscilla V. Leder, is the first collection of essays examining the full range of Kingsolverʼs literary output. The articles in this new volume provide analysis, context, and commentary on all of Kingsolverʼs novels, her poetry, her two essay collections, and her full-length non-fiction memoir, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Professor Leder begins Seeds of Change with a brief critical biography that traces Kingsolverʼs development as a writer. Leder also includes an overview of the scholarship on Kingsolverʼs oeuvre. Organized by subject matter, the 14 essays in the book are divided into three sections that deal with recurrent themes in Kingsolverʼs compositions: identity, social justice, and ecology. The pieces in this ground-breaking volume draw upon contemporary critical approaches—ecocritical, postcolonial, feminist, and disability studies—to extend established lines of inquiry into Kingsolverʼs writing and to take them in new directions. By comparing Kingsolver with earlier writers such as Joseph Conrad and Henry David Thoreau, the contributors place her canon in literary context and locate her in cultural contexts by revealing how she re-works traditional narratives such as the Western myth. They also address the more controversial aspects of her writings, examining her political advocacy and her relationship to her reader, in addition to exploring her vision of a more just and harmonious world. Fully indexed with a comprehensive works-cited section, Seeds of Change gives scholars and students important insight and analysis which will deepen and broaden their understanding and experience of Barbara Kingsolverʼs work.

Published by: The University of Tennessee Press


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

In a sense, this book began in my mother’s kitchen, where I experienced two different courses of instruction. In the present, spiced with the smell of chopped celery or the taste of beaten egg whites, I learned to cook. My mother’s other lesson—get all the education you possibly can—addressed a future that she could only imagine, having left school at sixteen to marry my father...

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pp. 1-23

Though best known for her novels, Barbara Kingsolver has also penned a popular food memoir and even that publishing rarity, a best-selling essay collection, as well as a book of poems, a short story collection, and a nonfiction account of a labor action. Amid this impressive variety, two basic themes emerge: an appreciation of the natural world...

Part 1. Identity

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Gardens of Auto Parts: American Western Myth and Native American Myth in The Bean Trees

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pp. 27-46

Junkyards and gardens: How could two such diametrically opposed worlds flourish together? Seemingly, one would preclude the possibility of the other. Abandoned wrecks would jeopardize new tomatoes, while spilled oil would poison the fertile ground, debilitating the delicate burgeoning of a squash blossom. How can anyone tend a garden in the midst of rusted auto parts?...

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To Live Deliberately: Feminist Theory in Action in High Tide in Tucson

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pp. 47-70

The essays collected in High Tide in Tucson were written at the cusp of a new millennium—a time when those at the helm of American political and economic institutions were heralding an era of unprecedented wealth and power. Yet this swaggering fin de siècle exuberance belied an unstable national infrastructure and increasingly precarious relationships with other cultures around the globe. Despite clear signs of local and international unrest, many conservative ideologues were peddling the notion that “we”—...

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Women, a Dark Continent? The Poisonwood Bible as a Feminist Response to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

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pp. 71-86

In the past few years, the history of the Congo has caught many people’s attention all over the world. One century ago, Belgium annexed the Congo as its colony, which lasted from 1908 until the Congo’s independence in 1960. Since then, Western views on the colonial past have changed dramatically. In Belgium, recent exhibitions, plays, historical publications, and broadcasts demonstrate the difference...

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Trauma and Memory in Animal Dreams

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pp. 87-108

n a 1997 review essay, “Trauma and Literary Theory,” James Berger asks why psychological trauma has “become a pivotal subject connecting so many disciplines,” from literary studies to historiography (569). Berger’s query encompasses the question of value Geoffrey Hartman poses in a 1995 issue of New Literary History, focusing on trends and topics in higher education. But where Hartman asks, “What is the relevance of trauma theory for reading..

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“Hemmed In”: Place, Disability, and Maternity in Animal Dreams and The Poisonwood Bible

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pp. 109-126

It is hard to ignore the plight of Adah Price, Barbara Kingsolver’s disabled protagonist in The Poisonwood Bible, who embraces her disability as normal and uses the biases of our culture to subvert that culture’s obsession with purity and wholeness. Indeed, given Adah’s spirit of subversion, she might serve as the poster child for disability studies as she reimagines the context of her disability, as critics such as Sheryl Stevenson, Steven Fox, Jenny Bangsund, and Feroza Jussawalla have demonstrated...

Part 2. Social Justice

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“Give Me Your Hand”: Accessibility, Commitment, and the Challenge of Cliché in Kingsolver’s Poetry

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pp. 129-144

Barbara Kingsolver is not known for her poetry. Her novels are popular and her essays frequently anthologized, but when her poetry is mentioned at all, which is not often, it is considered either a kind of index to her betterknown work or a window opening onto a more intimate view of the personal life and political commitments of the author...

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Wild Indians: Kingsolver’s Representation of Native America

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pp. 145-156

Writing about an ethnic group other than one’s own is always fraught with hazards; when Barbara Kingsolver wrote of a white woman adopting a Native American child in The Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven, she addressed what may be the most controversial subject in Native America today, adoption “off the reservation.” For example, in Sherman Alexie’s Indian Killer, the account of a Native American child taken without the consent of his birth mother...

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The White Imagination at Work in Pigs in Heaven

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pp. 157-174

Though Barbara Kingsolver’s novel The Poisonwood Bible (1998) is the one work in her oeuvre that critics and reviewers recognize as overtly postcolonial, Kingsolver’s interest in internal colonization dates back to her novel Pigs in Heaven (1993). Postcolonial critic Jenny Sharpe has written about the intersection of postcolonial studies and global...

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Imagined Geographies

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pp. 175-198

Whether the protagonists in Barbara Kingsolver’s novels are leaving or returning home, their travels carefully situate them within real histories and political geographies. Their journeys also often carry them through and to imaginary locations. Kingsolver’s decision to locate so much of her realist fiction in invented locales has put her literary and political reputation on the line...

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Earthbound Rhetoric and Praxis: Authentic Patriotism in a Time of Abstractions

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pp. 199-210

Bespectacled, wearing faded jeans and a purple T-shirt, holding a basket of tomatoes, Barbara Kingsolver stands with her two daughters and husband. The youngest daughter holds a wire basket of eggs; the oldest daughter, a basket of peppers; the husband, three huge vegetables that resemble onions. The arms and hands of the middle-aged parents reveal a musculature sculpted by physical labor...

Part 3. Ecology

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Remembering Our Ecological Place: Environmental Engagement in Kingsolver’s Nonfiction

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pp. 213-232

Through these words, Barbara Kingsolver maps a process of observation, inscription, evolution, and ultimately creation. The same story might be told of a seed’s transformation to plant, to bud, to flower, the culmination, Kingsolver beautifully reminds us, that is “the plant’s way of making love” (“Knowing Our Place” 38). In this simple gesture, Kingsolver distills for us the poetry of science...

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Contingency, Cultivation, and Choice: The Garden Ethic in Prodigal Summer

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pp. 233-250

Barbara Kingsolver responds to a reader’s question about how to read her most recent novel, Prodigal Summer: “I’d ask you to read slowly; this is the most challenging book I’ve ever given my readers. . . . My agenda is to lure you into thinking about whole systems, not just individual parts. . . . Notice the sentence that begins and ends the book: ‘Solitude is only a human presumption’” (“FAQ”)...

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Celebrating a Lively Earth: Children, Nature, and the Role of Mentors in Prodigal Summer

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pp. 251-262

Recalling childhood adventures with her brother and sister, during which they caught crawfish with their bare hands and studied birds whose names they had yet to learn, Barbara Kingsolver writes, “Much of what I know about life, and almost everything I believe about the way I want to live, was formed in those [Kentucky] woods” (“The Memory Place” 171). That Kingsolver would evolve into a fierce but poetic advocate for the natural world—...

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Together at the Table: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Thoreau’s Wild Fruits

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pp. 263-276

In her 2007 book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, Barbara Kingsolver asks if “the story of bread, from tilled ground to our table, [is] less relevant to our lives than the history of the thirteen colonies” (9). One hundred and fifty years earlier in his last manuscript, Wild Fruits, Henry David Thoreau had also commented on the extra-nutritive value of food: “better for us is the wild cherry than the pineapple . . . not on account of their flavor...

Works Cited

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pp. 277-292


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pp. 293-296


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pp. 297-300

E-ISBN-13: 9781572337350
E-ISBN-10: 1572337354
Print-ISBN-13: 9781572337190
Print-ISBN-10: 1572337192

Page Count: 308
Illustrations: 0 illustrations
Publication Year: 2010