Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Barbara Kingsolver: An Impressive Talk at Hollins

Barbara Kingsolver (right, disguised as a farmer) and Hollins President Nancy Gray.
Barbara Kingsolver up close.
It simply did not occur to me that I would need both a camera and a note pad for tonight's Barbara Kingsolver talk at Hollins University's Theatre--which was filled to overflowing.

Overflowing, in this case, is a literal explanation. Hollins had to set up a room to televise the talk live in a nearby building because the crowd wouldn't fit. I got there early, but it took my pal Ernie Zulia (who heads the theater department at Hollins) to find me two seats. I was grateful he did. Barbara Kingsolver, the noted novelist and environmentalist, is as good a speaker as any writer I've heard.

She is natural, smart, funny, attractive (she looks like a literary Emmylou Harris, tall and quite striking) and a heck of a teacher. The note pad would have been good because every couple of minutes she'd easily speak a beautiful and instructive line (as when she said fiction is not like a purse, "You don't just throw stuff in that you might use.")

Kingsolver lives in far southwestern Virginia and raises Icelandic sheep ("This is how farmers dress when they're going out," she said). Her books concentrate heavily on what we are doing to the earth and what we should be done.

Her advice to writers was perfect. One young student asked her directly for that advice. "If you smoke, stop," she said, explaining that good writers have to grow up and in order to grow up, they can't die from smoking. I thought that was a pretty clear direction.

Before the talk, I had chatted with a young high school senior about what she would study in college. She said she was considering journalism. I told her that was absolutely useless, like a teacher majoring in education. I said she should concentrate in something that interests her, that she already knows how to write and should continue doing that, too.

Guess who said exactly the same thing 40 minutes later? Kingsolver said she has always written, but wanted to major in science in college. She used that knowledge and her natural interest in writing to get jobs interpreting what scientists said ... as a journalist.

I thought, at that moment, "I love this woman."

Wish you'd seen her. You would adore her, too.


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  2. I WAS there, although I'm sorry I didn't get to say hello to you. I love your description of Kingsolver as "a literary Emmylou Harris," and I described her to a friend as "like a chic Appalachian Trail through-hiker." My favorite moment was her tip that the way to convey an unlikeable character with sympathy is to pretend you're that character's mother. It was a very enjoyable evening.

    Lana Whited (Ferrum)