AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Barbara Kingsolver and Steven Hopp Visit Tech to Discuss Common Book

By Ashleigh Lanza
October 16, 2010

In the midst of Sustainability Week, Virginia Tech received a couple visitors from a small town an hour and a half south of the Blacksburg campus. Barabara Kingsolver and her husband, Steven Hopp, entertained a full Burruss Auditorium on Sept. 14. The pair read excerpts of their book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life," and answered audience questions.

"Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A year of Food Life" is the 2010-2011 Common Book for Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech started this tradition 12 years ago. A committee would meet a year in advance to pick a book that represented a theme for incoming freshmen and new student transfers. This book would raise new student's awareness about the selected theme as they begin their education in Blacksburg in the fall.

Dr. Daniel A.Wubah, vice president and dean for undergraduate education, explained the common book selection process. He said that there is a committee whose goal is to search through a list of thousands of books and find those which are "timely, thought provoking, relevant, and interesting to read."

This committee, comprised of faculty, staff and students meet and narrow the list, then select a minimum of five books to read over winter break. After winter break, the committee returns in January and chooses the book that they think is best fit for the following school year.

When Wubah was crossing the drillfield one snowy morning, he saw a student in the committee:

"She said the five books she read [over break] didn't meet her expectations, so she decided to read a sixth book and she believed that book should be the selection. She even volunteered the name which I stored in my memory bank. You could imagine my excitement after months of meetings and debate: Animals, Vegetable, Miracle: A year of Food Life."

Then Wubah introduced the speakers, along with Professor Nikki Giovanni and a current Virginia Tech student. Barabara Kingsolver and Steven Hopp came to the stage and joked around to warm up to the crowd, who ranged from all different ages.

Kingsolver was very "flattered and surprised" for the selection of her book as the official Virginia Tech common book and was appreciative for the election. Kingsolver hoped that the book helped to "build many sustainable communities within this enormous community in which you all live."

The crowd enjoyed a joke in which Kingsolver exclaimed to her husband, "Look how many people went to bed with us," after she asked the audience how many people read the book in bed. Soon after, she made way to the podium as she began reading excerpts from the novel.

Kingsolver read pages from the book as Hopp introduced some surprising facts found in the sidebars along the way. Her daughter, Camille Kingsolver, was not in attendance but was a contributing author as well.

Kingsolver read part of the first chapter, as well as a later chapter in the book. She realized that "[sustainability] can be a sad subject sometimes, but after reading this book, readers will realize the options we have in investing in our own food economy."

Hopp continued to talk more about petroleum use in agriculture. As he concluded his short monologue, he confided with the audience that the amount of oil estimated to have spilled this past summer in the gulf is just about the same amount of oil that we use to get food from seed to table for one day in the United States.

At the end of the presentation, the floor was opened to the audience for questions. One of the questions asked was about family conflict during the time that the novel was written. Kingsolver replied:

"We wrote this book as a family, there are four of us and three signed a book contract. The fourth was too little to sign it. We did this only and always because we wanted to do it as a family and we all had the responsibility to write the narrative. We set it up as no right way to do this. We had no goal that we could make or fail. We just wanted to try and do the best we could to see how well we could live on what we had at hand; to learn how to eat with the seasons really and not half way and see what will happen...and it wasn't that hard. We didn't fight about it. It was an adventure; we are a family of people who like to cook and already had a food culture within our family."

Following the presentation was a book signing, where Kingsolver and Hopp sat in front of the doors to the Burruss Auditorium, where two hours earlier thousands of anticipated students, staff, faculty and community members entered from, to sign books for those interested.