Plot Summary: "
Be still, and the world is bound to turn herself inside out to entertain you. Everywhere you look, joyful noise is clanging to drown out quiet desperation. The choice is to draw the blinds and shut it all out, or believe. In these twenty-five essays, Barbara Kingsolver chooses to share her beliefs and her commitments - in family, community, the common good, cultural diversity, the natural world, and the entertaining and transforming powers of art. Opening all the windows and doors - to human and animal neighbors of strikingly diverse habits, the world of children, the "silbo speaking and whistling natives of La Gomera, and other marvels - she lets in or rushes out to embrace all the wonders, beauties, threats, and angers that life and Earth can offer. With a biologist's attentiveness and a poet's vision, Kingsolver writes about topics as various as possession versus territoriality, modern motherhood, atom-bomb relics, West African voodoo, and the relationship between politics and art. She pursues meaning and beauty through life's tangled, full-of-surprises undergrowth with the tenacity of Indiana Jones, the wit of Thoreau (one of her favorites), and a four-year-old's unspoiled joy. In her devotion to the urgent business of being alive and to responsibly sharing life with others, Kingsolver is joyous, defiant, funny, angry, persuasive, and - above all - courageously honest and generous. Deeply enamored of the world, she encourages us to enter with her " a conspiracy with life." "Right now, this minute, time to move out into the grief and glory. High tide.
Kingsolver on "High Tide in Tucson
Writing "High Tide in Tucson was just about like writinga book from scratch. It took about a year. A lot of the material is brand-new, written for this book. Some reviewers have been sort of dismissive of the effort, as if I opened a drawer and found these essays and just threw them together into a book. I wouldn't do that. I have such reverence for the institution of books. I'm very daunted by the idea of writing one, even though I do it over and over. I still find it hard to believe that I'm allowed to do it. I enter the writing of a book the same way I enter a cathedral, with my eyes on heaven and hoping I'm worthy.
" Though some are more lighthearted than others, the essays are all lucid, well thought out and remarkably sensitive. At one point, she writes, " As I made my way leisurely through Thoreau's final book, I found myself turning down the corner of nearly every other page to note an arresting moment of prose." Her own name could be substituted for Thoreau's. Kingsolver doesn't write machine-tooled prose. It's Old World hand-crafted. One word fits perfectly into the next."
-Curt Schleier, Kansas City, Missouri, Star
Topics for Discussion:
1. How would you define the main theme of each essay? In what ways does each of these primary themes reappear throughout the collection? How does Kingsolver signal those themes and issues that are of the highest importance to her? Why do you think she ascribes such importance to these themes and issues?
2. Several of the essays address issues at the forefront of social and political debate today (for example: children in American culture, the environment, politics and art, and models of the family). Why does Kingsolver address these specific issues? What sideof the debate does she take in relation to each, and what arguments and evidence does she present in support of her positions? Do you agree or disagree with her arguments?
3. How does Kingsolver's reverence for the past and for nature relate to her astonishment and joy in the face of life's wonders, her political involvement, and her steadfast allegiance to the powers of art? How does she view the arts in relation to the past, to nature, and to life itself? Do you agree with her pronouncements in this regard? What value does she ascribe to moral, social, political, and artistic responsibilities; and how are those responsibilities interrelated?
4. In " In Case You Ever Want to Go Home Again, " Kingsolver writes, " From living in a town that listened in on party lines, I learned both the price and value of community." What are the prices and the values of community as revealed in this and other essays? Does your own experience corroborate, add to, or contradict these prices and values?
5. Do you agree with Kingsolver's contentions, in " How Mr. Dewey Decimal Saved My Life, " that we live in a culture " that undervalues education . . ., undervalues breadth of experience . . ., downright discourages critical thinking . . ., and distrusts foreign ideas" ? What evidence can you apply to support or refute these contentions?
6. Kingsolver begins nearly all of her essays with a personal experience or observation and then proceeds to a more universal or general truth, judgment, or conclusion. Do her judgments and conclusions always follow coherently from the personal statements that precede them? Are her generalizations - for example, " Always andforever, the ghosts of past anguish compel us to live through our children; " " Reproduction is the most invincible of all human goals" - always appropriate and defensible?
7. Do you agree with Kingsolver's statements, in " Somebody's Baby: " that " the way we treat children - all of them, not just our own, and especially those in great need - defines the shape of the world we'll wake up in tomorrow; " and that " Children deprived - of love, money, attention, or moral guidance - grow up to have large and powerful needs" ? Are her statements about children relevant to recent reported events involving children in need or in trouble?
8. Why does Kingsolver ascribe so much importance to ethnic and cultural diversity and differences? What does she mean when she writes, " I want my child to be so completely familiar with differences that she'll ignore difference per se and really see what she's looking at" ?
9. In addition to " Careless recreation, and a failure of love for the landi (" The Memory Place" ), what kinds of environmental and other pollution and what kinds of preservation does Kingsolver single out as being of primary importance? Why is care of the land so important to what she calls " The Memory Place" ? What is your " memory place, " and what is required to maintain its value and integrity?
10. What are the lessons learned by traveling to such sites as the Canary Islands, Benin, Hawaii's Haleakala crater, and other distant and different landscapes? How do Kingsolver's responses to these places compare with your own responses to distant places visited or lived in?
11. " Art isentertainment but it's also celebration, condolence, exploration, duty, and communion, " Kingsolver insists, in " Careful What You Let in the Door." How may the elements of this statement be applied to these essays, and to Kingsolver's novels and short stories?
The Topics for Discussion for "High Tide in Tucson were prepared by Hal Hager, Hal Hager & Associ
Barbara Kingsolver was born on April 8, 1955. She grew up "in the middle of an alfalfa field," in the part of eastern Kentucky that lies between the opulent horse farms and the impoverished coal fields. While her family has deep roots in the region, she never imagined staying there herself. "The options were limited--grow up to be a farmer or a farmer's wife."
Kingsolver has always been a storyteller: "I used to beg my mother to let me tell her a bedtime story." As a child, she wrote stories and essays and, beginning at the age of eight, kept a journal religiously. Still, it never occurred to Kingsolver that she could become a professional writer. Growing up in a rural place, where work centered mainly on survival, writing didn't seem to be a practical career choice. Besides, the writers she read, she once explained, "were mostly old, dead men. It was inconceivable that I might grow up to be one of those myself . . . "
Kingsolver left Kentucky to attend DePauw University in Indiana, where she majored in biology. She also took one creative writing course, and became active in the last anti-Vietnam War protests. After graduating in 1977, Kingsolver lived and worked in widely scattered places. In the early eighties, she pursued graduate studies in biology and ecology at the University of Arizona in Tucson, where she received a Masters of Science degree. She also enrolled in a writing class taught by author Francine Prose, whose work Kingsolver admires.
Kingsolver's fiction is rich with the language and imagery of her native Kentucky. But when she first left home, she says, "I lost my accent . . . [P]eople made terrible fun of me for the way I used to talk, so I gave it up slowly and became something else." During her years in school and two years spent living in Greece and France she supported herself in a variety of jobs: as an archaeologist, copy editor, X-ray technician, housecleaner, biological researcher and translator of medical documents. After graduate school, a position as a science writer for the University of Arizona soon led her into feature writing for journals and newspapers. Her numerous articles have appeared in a variety of publications, including The Nation, The New York Times, and Smithsonian, and many of them are included in the collection, High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never. In 1986 she won an Arizona Press Club award for outstanding feature writing, and in 1995, after the publication of High Tide in Tucson, Kingsolver was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from her alma mater, De Pauw University.
Kingsolver credits her careers in scientific writing and journalism with instilling in her a writer's discipline and broadening her "fictional possiblities." Describing herself as a shy person who would generally prefer to stay at home with her computer, she explains that "journalism forces me to meet and talk with people I would never run across otherwise."
From 1985 through 1987, Kingsolver was a freelance journalist by day, but she was writing fiction by night. Married to a chemist in 1985, she suffered from insomnia after becoming pregnant the following year. Instead of following her doctor's recommendation to scrub the bathroom tiles with a toothbrush, Kingsolver sat in a closet and began to write The Bean Trees, a novel about a young woman who leaves rural Kentucky (accent intact) and finds herself living in urban Tucson.
The Bean Trees, published by HarperCollins in 1988, and reissued in a special ten-year anniversary hardcover edition in 1998, was enthusiastically received by critics. But, perhaps more important to Kingsolver, the novel was read with delight and, even, passion by ordinary readers. "A novel can educate to some extent," she told Publishers Weekly. "But first, a novel has to entertain--that's the contract with the reader: you give me ten hours and I'll give you a reason to turn every page. I have a commitment to accessiblity. I believe in plot. I want an English professor to understand the symbolism while at the same time I want the people I grew up with--who may not often read anything but the Sears catalogue--to read my books."
For Kingsolver, writing is a form of political activism. When she was in her twenties she discovered Doris Lessing. "I read the Children of Violence novels and began to understand how a person could write about the problems of the world in a compelling and beautiful way. And it seemed to me that was the most important thing I could ever do, if I could ever do that."
The Bean Trees was followed by the collection, Homeland and Other Stories (1989), the novels Animal Dreams (1990), and Pigs in Heaven (1993), and the bestselling High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now and Never (1995). Kingsolver has also published a collection of poetry, Another America: Otra America (Seal Press, 1992, 1998), and a nonfiction book, Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of l983 (ILR Press/Cornell University Press, 1989, 1996). The Poisonwood Bible, published in 1998, earned accolades at home and abroad, and was an Oprah's Book Club selection.
Barbara's Prodigal Summer, released in November of 2000, is a novel set in a rural farming community in southern Appalachia. Small Wonder, April 2002, presents twenty-three wonderfully articulate essays. Here Barbara raises her voice in praise of nature, family, literature, and the joys of everyday life while examining the genesis of war, violence, and poverty in our world.
Barbara Kingsolver presently lives outside of Tucson with her husband Steven Hopp, and her two daughters, Camille from a previous marriage, and Lily, who was born in 1996. When not writing or spending time with her family, Barbara gardens, cooks, hikes, and works as an environmental activist and human-rights advocate.
Given that Barbara Kingsolver's work covers the psychic and geographical territories that she knows firsthand, readers often assume that her work is autobiographical. "There are little things that people who know me might recognize in my novels," she acknowledges. "But my work is not about me. I don't ever write about real people. That would be stealing, first of all. And second of all, art is supposed to be better than that. If you want a slice of life, look out the window. An artist has to look out that window, isolate one or two suggestive things, and embroider them together with poetry and fabrication, to create a revelation. If we can't, as artists, improve on real life, we should put down our pencils and go bake bread."