Tue. Jan 9th, 2024


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Opinion | Barbara Kingsolver Thinks Urban Liberals Have It All Wrong on Appalachia

2 min read

Produced by ‘The Ezra Klein Show’

When Barbara Kingsolver set out to write her latest novel, “Demon Copperhead,” she was already considered one of the most accomplished writers of our time. She had won awards including the Women’s Prize for Fiction and a National Humanities Medal, and had a track record of best-selling books, including “The Poisonwood Bible” and “Unsheltered.” But she felt there was one giant stone left unturned: to write “the great Appalachian novel.”

[You can listen to this episode of “The Ezra Klein Show” on Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.]

Kingsolver grew up in rural Kentucky and lives in southwestern Virginia. Appalachia is her home. So when national coverage of her region started increasing in the years since 2016, with a focus on the region’s problems — like deep rural poverty and the opioid epidemic — she felt something was missing. She wanted to write a novel about Appalachia from the inside, as someone who is a part of it and who grew up in it. “The story I wanted to tell was not about the big guys, but about the little people,” she told me.

And if major awards are any indication, Kingsolver succeeded. “Demon Copperhead” won the 2023 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and has been widely acclaimed for the nuanced portrait it paints of life in rural America. So I asked Kingsolver to talk about her background and the book, and to explore the often chasmic dissonance between how many of us city-dwellers think about Appalachia and the reality of living there.

You can listen to our whole conversation by following “The Ezra Klein Show” on Apple, Spotify, Google or wherever you get your podcasts. View a list of book recommendations from our guests here.

(A full transcript of the episode is available here.)

This episode of “The Ezra Klein Show” was produced by Annie Galvin. Fact checking by Michelle Harris. Mixing by Sonia Herrero. Our senior editor is Rogé Karma. The show’s production team also includes Emefa Agawu, Jeff Geld, Rollin Hu and Kristin Lin. Original music by Isaac Jones. Audience strategy by Kristina Samulewski and Shannon Busta. The executive producer of New York Times Opinion Audio is Annie-Rose Strasser.

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