Tom Eblen

Barbara Kingsolver, Gayl Jones among new inductees into Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame

Barbara Kingsolver.
Barbara Kingsolver. Photo Provided

Best-seller Barbara Kingsolver and the reclusive Gayl Jones are among five acclaimed authors who will be inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame.

Kingsolver, who grew up in Carlisle and lives in southwest Virginia, plans to attend and speak at the ceremony at 7 p.m. Feb. 2 at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, 251 W. Second Street. The event is free and open to the public.

Jones will not attend. She lives in Lexington but has not appeared in public since her mentally ill husband, Bob Higgins, committed suicide during a standoff with police at their home in February 1998.

Neil Chethik, the Carnegie Center’s executive director, said he wrote Jones a letter about her selection. When she didn’t respond, he and poet Bianca Spriggs knocked on her front door.

“She was very gracious and said that while she could not attend she gave us permission to honor her,” he said.

In her place, Nikky Finney, a National Book Award-winning poet who taught at the University of Kentucky for many years, will read from Jones’ work.

Jones, 67, grew up in the Speigle Heights neighborhood northwest of downtown. She was an exceptional student at Henry Clay High School, and her English teacher encouraged another Hall of Fame member from Lexington, Elizabeth Hardwick, to mentor her. Hardwick, a founder of The New York Review of Books, helped Jones get a scholarship to Connecticut College, where she earned a bachelor’s in English.

Jones then earned master’s and doctorate degrees from Brown University.

Her first novel, “Corregidora” (1975), caught the attention of Toni Morrison, then an editor at Random House. Morrison was Jones’ editor for a time before leaving to pursue her own writing, which won the 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Jones taught briefly at Wellesley College, then at the University of Michigan before moving to Europe for five years. She has written four other novels: “Eva’s Man” (1976), “The Birdwatcher” (1985), “The Healing” (1998), a finalist for the National Book Award, and “Mosquito” (1999).

Jones’ other work includes a short story collection, “White Rat” (1977); a book-length poem, “Song for Anninho” (1981); two poetry collections, “The Hermit-Woman” (1983) and “Xarque and Other Poems”(1985); and a book of criticism, “Liberating Voices: Oral Tradition in African American Literature” (1991).

Drawing on dark themes from her life and African American history, Jones’ sometimes controversial writing has been described as “stylistically breathtaking.”

Kingsolver, 61, was born in Maryland to a family with roots in Nicholas County, where she spent much of her childhood. She earned biology and ecology degrees from DePauw University and the University of Arizona. Her books explore themes of feminism, social justice and environmentalism.

Many of Kingsolver’s 14 books have been national best-sellers, and she has won numerous awards, including the National Humanities Medal. Writer’s Digest named her one of the most important writers of the 20th century.

Kingsolver’s books are: “The Bean Trees” (1988), “Homeland” (1989), “Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983” (1989), “Animal Dreams” (1990), “Another America” (1992), “Pigs in Heaven” (1993), “High Tide in Tucson” (1995), “The Poisonwood Bible”, a Pulitzer Prize finalist (1998), “Prodigal Summer” (2000), “Small Wonder” (2002), “Last Stand: America’s Virgin Lands”, with photographer Annie Griffiths Belt (2002), “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” (2007), “The Lacuna” (2009) and “Flight Behavior” (2012). She also has written dozens of stories, essays and scientific articles.

Three deceased writers also are being added to the Hall of Fame this year:

Irvin Shrewsbury Cobb (1876-1944), a Paducah native, became a nationally known writer and celebrity. He was a journalist, essayist, syndicated columnist, novelist, poet, script writer, actor, storyteller, humorist and lecturer. He even hosted the Academy Awards.

Alfred Bertram Guthrie Jr. (1901-1991) was born in Indiana and came to Kentucky in 1926 to work at The Lexington Leader, where he spent 17 years as a reporter, editorial writer, city editor and executive editor. He began writing novels in the 1940s and taught creative writing at the University of Kentucky. His best-known books are “The Big Sky” (1947) and “The Way West” (1949), which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and was made into a movie starring Kirk Douglas. His screenplay for the movie “Shane” was nominated for an Oscar in 1953.

Joseph Seamon Cotter (1861-1949), who was born in Bardstown to a mixed-race mother and white father, became a well-known storyteller, poet, playwright who promoted advancement for African Americans. He spent much of his career as an educator in Louisville.

The Carnegie Center created the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame in 2013 to draw attention to the state’s rich literary heritage. With these five inductions, the hall will have 29 members.

Tom Eblen: 859-231-1415, @tomeblen