Barbara Kingsolver: “They called me a lollipop for coming from the country. "Now I have a Pulitzer."

It is difficult to make someone laugh and break someone's heart at the same time, but Barbara Kingsolver (Annapolis, Maryland, 1955) took on that challenge to write Demon Copperhead (Navona), the novel that led her to win the 2023 Pulitzer Prize.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
14 May 2024 Tuesday 04:40
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Barbara Kingsolver: “They called me a lollipop for coming from the country. "Now I have a Pulitzer."

It is difficult to make someone laugh and break someone's heart at the same time, but Barbara Kingsolver (Annapolis, Maryland, 1955) took on that challenge to write Demon Copperhead (Navona), the novel that led her to win the 2023 Pulitzer Prize. “I wanted talk, among other things, about the inherited poverty in the Appalachian area, where I live, and the serious opioid crisis that the United States is suffering. Not only that, but the many orphans there are as a result of drugs. I call them the children of addiction and on my street you could point out who has gone through it. It is something widespread and it is the grandparents who end up taking care of the little ones,” confesses the author during her visit to Barcelona. “They were dark themes and I was afraid that, because of their harshness, people would stop reading me halfway through, so I spent about three years trying to find a formula. Charles Dickens was the right answer.”

The writer and journalist noticed the British author because “throughout his career, he placed special emphasis on orphans and poverty, and people still love his work today. You could say that she was something like the television series writer of her time. Clear, concise and with a language that today we would call audiovisual. So I based myself on the model that David Copperfield used to write and adapted it to talk about the problems of my time. Or, that's what I thought, because in the process, I realized that we carry many of those concerns with us, such as structural class poverty and society's habit of looking the other way when it doesn't like something and doesn't know or not. wants to solve it. We always think 'that will never happen to me'. But it happens and it is hard to realize that almost no one wants to reach out to you, like you had done years ago with others.”

The story has as its protagonist Demon Copperhead, the son of a teenage single mother, who has no assets other than his bearing, his reddish hair and his innate talent for survival. The latter will be especially useful throughout his life when facing foster homes, child labor, devastating losses and various addictions, without forgetting lovesickness. Kingsolver was clear that he would set the plot in the southern Appalachian mountains because “rural people and our problems matter too. “I wanted it to be a window for people to get closer to our culture and also a mirror for my neighbors to see themselves reflected.”

The author regrets that “in movies and series only the clichés of the country's rural populations are shown. In the United States, everything is designed for cities and the rest of us have to deal with a feeling of invisibility. We feel that the government abandons us. Our hospitals are closing, as are our post offices, schools and many bus lines. We depend on ourselves for our transportation and so many other things. We have learned to live in the culture of self-sufficiency and this reality causes America to be divided in two: the America that feels that everything works, and the one that feels abandoned. This last one is what I am interested in writing about.”

For many years, Kingsolver hid her accent because “she didn't want to be seen as a lollipop. This is what city people call those of us who come from the countryside. I would like to tell you that I now have a Pulitzer. I felt like I lived in a fantastic place, because nature was my own playground. But, when I arrived at the university, I realized that the students and some teachers laughed at my accent and, instead of claiming it, I hid it, which meant a strong identity crisis. From the outside, many could wonder why he did that. Not only me, but a large part of my environment. It was a way to survive and avoid contempt. But the time has come to get rid of the complexes and, my grain of sand, is to reclaim these places and their people. We matter a lot, we are 50% of the population, and the first thing is to believe it ourselves.”

The writer questions whether the United States is capable of fulfilling the long-awaited American dream. “For 200 years, immigrants who arrived believed that this was a place without classes, where everyone starts from scratch. It didn't matter where you came from and where you ended up living. If you worked hard and were smart, you could get ahead. But this has never been true. It is difficult to achieve it, and that often makes people feel like failures.”

More than thirty years ago, Kingsolver married “until death do us part” to the world of literature. During this time she has written more than fifteen novels that expose, for the most part, a social injustice or a real and current problem, such as climate change. This has led her to obtain multiple recognitions, such as winning the Women's Prize for Fiction twice (she is the only American author to have achieved this), and to gradually create a very loyal community of readers “who always give me many ideas for future books. But they are just that, ideas. I try not to let the outside influence me more than necessary and to carry out all my ideas, which are quite a few. But it is always interesting to listen to someone who reads you. In the end, without them, my work would have no meaning,” she concludes.