October 22, 2018
Cullen Auditorium, University of Houston, Houston, Texas
I snagged an advanced reader copy of Barbara Kingsolver's new book, Unsheltered, some months ago, and read, and read, and read, with increasing wonder at the cleverness, at the immediacy, at the right-ness of this book now. Here's my review, written a month ago, if you are interested.
So I've read (most of) Barbara Kingsolver, but I've never seen her speak; I wasn't sure what to expect. Would she be reserved, quiet, intellectual, as I've come to picture her over the years?
Nope. Not even close.
"Houston, bless your hearts. You've been through hell and high water." Barbara Kingsolver greeted the packed house at Cullen Auditorium on the UH campus as if she knew each of us personally. I immediately felt a sense of connectedness; Barbara Kingsolver is a member of my tribe.
"This book," Kingsolver told us, "is about the great divides in our country. It occurred to me that I was looking at the end of the world."
Nods. Sad smiles. We know what she is talking about.
"So many things we have always counted on---health insurance, pensions, the polar ice caps---are disappearing."
More nods. More sad smiles.
"Willa, my main character, has done everything right, yet has still failed."
Oh, Barbara. You have touched a nerve.
Kingsolver went on to tell us about the dual and parallel plots in her book, one set in the past after another event which deeply divided the country, the Civil War, and the other in our current time. The story set in the past has characters in turmoil over the work of Charles Darwin. Her contemporary characters are struggling with employment, with college debt, with suicide. And both sets of characters live in homes that are collapsing around them.
After Kingsolver read a small bit from her book, she sat down with author and former First Lady of Houston, Andrea White, to talk.
Kingsolver got to the point right away. "How do we bridge the divide when the solutions of yesterday no longer apply?"
That is the question, isn't it?
"The hope is that we're not all doomed, really," Kingsolver assured us. "The starting point is building trust. Hope is a decision. We must have hope that we can do something about this mess. To do otherwise is to abandon every child on earth."
Finally, Barbara Kingsolver turns to us and speaks directly to the audience. "I said there will be no altar call tonight. I lied. Go vote."
We applaud and applaud. Preach on, Barbara Kingsolver.
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