How Barbara Kingsolver makes literature topical — from climate change to opioids
On Sunday, June 1, thousands of students and workers streamed into and through the streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts, for “March For Our Lives” — an annual nationwide protest to draw attention to gun violence in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The walkout sparked a firestorm of controversy, particularly in the literary community, about how the movement for gun control is often a proxy for broader national and social problems, at least when the participants are young and white.
The march had its roots in students’ desire to protect guns. But it has also become a vehicle for exploring the role literature might play in promoting social justice, whether as the cause of the marches or the effect of their outcomes.
“That’s the thing I love, is it’s not just a march for guns, but actually a way to think through these bigger issues that are being politicized,” says the author, who was in Washington for the protest.
For years, Kingsolver, 55, a professor of environmental literature at Princeton University, has worked in a number of fields related to environmental issues. From the 1970s to the 1990s, she co-founded the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, a think tank devoted to promoting nuclear energy, and has used all of her writing and teaching time to explore how writers can use literature to advance environmental causes. She participated in the 2009 Climate Action Summit in New York organized by 350.org, which put her on the speakers’ circuit with a series of talks about the role of literature in climate change activism.
Last year, she released a new book, The Water Is Wide, which explores how water-related issues can be told and read in different ways. Her latest project, Climate Change in a Whole New Light, is a compilation of short stories and stories of history and literature, which she has been working on for years