Barnes, Kim 1958–

views updated

Barnes, Kim 1958–


Born May 22, 1958, in Lewiston, ID; daughter of Arthur Oneil (a logger and truck driver) and Claudette (an office worker) Barnes; married Robert Wrigley (a poet and college professor), July 20, 1983; children: Jordan, Jace; stepchildren: Philip. Education: Lewis-Clark St. College, B.A., 1983; Washington State University, M.A., 1985; University of Montana, M.F.A., 1995. Politics: Democrat. Hobbies and other interests: Backpacking, fishing, gardening.


Home—Moscow, ID. Office—University of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83843. Agent—Sally Wofford-Girand, Brick House Literary Agents, 80 Fifth Ave., Ste. 1101, New York, NY 10011. E-mail—[email protected].


Washington State University, Pullman, lecturer in English, 1983-85; University of Idaho, Moscow, lecturer in English, 1985-90; Lewis-Clark State College, Lewiston, ID, lecturer, 1991-97, assistant professor of English, 1997-2000; University of Montana, lecturer, 1994-95; University of Idaho, assistant professor of English, 2000—. Honorary distinguished visiting professor, Oregon State University-Cascades, 2006. Also taught at Ocooch Writers Retreat, University of Wisconsin—Richland Center, 1993, Summer Writers' Workshop, University of Nevada, Reno, 1996, Writers at Work, Park City, UT, 1997, and Western Writers Conference, 1998.


Fellow, Idaho Commission on the Arts, 1991 and 2001; Academy of American Poets Prize, University of Montana, 1995; Jerard Fund Award for a work in progress by an emerging female writer, International PEN, 1995, for In the Wilderness: Coming of Age in Unknown Country; finalist for the Martha Albrand Award, 1997; award for excellence in teaching, Lewis-Clark State Foundation, 1997; Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award and Pulitzer Prize finalist for autobiography or biography, both 1997, both for In the Wilderness; fellow, Heekin Group Foundation, 1998; state writer-in-residence award, Idaho Commission of Art, 2005.


(Editor, with Mary Clearman Blew, and contributor) Circle of Women: An Anthology of Contemporary Western Women Writers, Penguin (New York, NY), 1994, revised edition, Red River Books/University of Oklahoma Press (Norman, OK), 2001.

In the Wilderness: Coming of Age in Unknown Country, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1996.

Hungry for the World: A Memoir, Random House (New York, NY), 2000.

Finding Caruso (novel), Putnam's (New York, NY), 2003.

(Editor, with Claire Davis) Kiss Tomorrow Hello: Notes from the Midlife Underground by Twenty-five Women over Forty, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2006.

Works represented in anthologies, including Idaho Unbound, West Bound Books; Tumblewords, University of Nevada Press; Women on Hunting, Ecco Press; and The Honeymoon's Over: True Stories of Love, Marriage, and Divorce, edited by Andrea Chapin and Sally Wofford-Girand, Warner (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor to periodicals, including Shenandoah, Georgia Review, Cimarron Review, Northern Lights, and Manoa. Poetry editor, Northwest Review, 1991.


A Pulitzer Prize finalist for her 1996 memoir In the Wilderness: Coming of Age in Unknown Country, Kim Barnes has become known for her ability to turn painful childhood memories into dramatic reading. Her second work of autobiography, Hungry for the World: A Memoir, details events from her young adulthood, during the years prior to her enrolling in college and studying creative writing. Barnes subsequently became a lecturer and English professor.

Barnes grew up in Idaho during the 1970s, the daughter of a logger turned truck driver. After enjoying a life close to the land during her early years, she was forced to adapt to a dramatically different existence when her family moved to the mill town of Lewiston. Her parents had converted to the Pentecostal Christian faith, adopting a radically different lifestyle in which most worldly pleasures were forbidden. Her father, who said that God had told him to leave logging, seemed to her to metamorphose into a distant, forbidding figure of authority. Declared a healer at age eleven, Barnes at first followed her parents' faith but rebelled against it in adolescence, when the appeal of her peers' more hedonistic lifestyle became too powerful to resist. At the time of her graduation from high school—when her father told her that she could not attend a graduation party—Barnes left home and began an abusive relationship with an older man. After their breakup, she turned to college as a refuge. Barnes later married one of her professors, became a writer, and settled in a home in rural Idaho with her family.

Many of these experiences are recounted in In the Wilderness, which received considerable critical attention. A Kirkus Reviews commentator referred to the book as a "sad and beautiful memoir" that provides "the kind of bold, perspective-wrenching joy that is the province of real literature" and "forces reconsideration of the form." Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, applied the epithet "unique" to the volume, and spoke of its "healing intensity," while a Publishers Weekly reviewer called the book "nonjudgmental and generous" and "deeply moving." contributor Maud Casey asserted that Barnes's "memoir has a mythic feel," praised the author's eye for detail, and declared: "Barnes charms her way out of cliché, turning typical angst into something a little stranger."

The events of In the Wilderness are summarized in the first seventy-five pages of Hungry for the World, which goes on to recount Barnes's experiences from the age of eighteen to age twenty-one. The book is dominated by her relationship with a Vietnam veteran who is old enough to be her father, and who rather resembles her father in his interests and attitudes. As Barnes reveals, she submitted to his degrading sexual demands and listened to his threats of future violence, having previously been taught that women want to be hurt by men. The account ends with the author's partial reconciliation with her parents, her marriage and parenthood, and her first work as a writer of poems, stories, and memoirs.

Hungry for the World generated mixed reviews, some of which offered commendation for her writing style and honesty; other reviewers, however, felt that Barnes failed to generate the same kind of resonance found in In the Wilderness. Writing for Library Journal, Gina Kaiser remarked that some of the details unhappily resembled stories from True Romance. While she found the section reprising In the Wilderness to be "lyrical and engaging," the critic judged that, overall, Barnes did not "draw deep parallels among her life choices" and that it was hard to be sympathetic to "problems that she seems to bring on herself." In a review for the Salt Lake Tribune, Martin Naparsteck found a similar imbalance, calling the book "a memoir of degradation and redemption—a lot of degradation, the redemption tacked on at the end." Roberta Bernstein, who reviewed the book for the New York Times, suggested that the author fell short of recreating the impact of her first memoir, saying: "She relies, less effectively, on an almost documentary recitation of events intercut with over-blown emotional summations." Bernstein concluded, however, that "honesty makes [Barnes's] story effective."

More positive responses included a Publishers Weekly review that called Hungry for the World a "well-crafted memoir" in which "Barnes explores the complicities of an abusive relationship that eerily echoes the patriarchal domination of family and church she sought to escape." Seaman, writing in Booklist, called the work "candid but dignified" and "profoundly disturbing," adding: "Barnes tells [her story] with consummate skill, courage, and generosity, transforming her pain into an antidote for others." In Alabama's Decatur Daily, Vivian K. Moore stated: "Beginning with the first paragraph, I had the sensation that the author was sitting across the room telling me, personally, of these events. A pure, almost poetic style of prose had me dog-earing corners and reaching for a pen."

Prior to the success of her first memoir, Barnes had been known primarily as the coeditor of Circle of Women: An Anthology of Contemporary Western Women Writers, which was published in 1994. That collection, which Publishers Weekly reviewer Maria Simson labeled "evocative," expanded the range of the literary West, going beyond rugged cowboy-style individualism to express a sense of community and connectedness found in the work of many female writers. Among the thirty-five writers whose fiction, nonfiction, and poems were selected for the anthology were Mailynne Robinson, Tess Gallagher, Terry Tempest Williams, Melanie Rae Thon, Gretel Ehrlich, Cyra McFadden, and the two editors themselves. Lynn Cothern, reviewing the volume for Western American Literature, called it "an important contribution to the literature of the American West," and Cheryl L. Conway, recommending the book to readers of Library Journal, noted themes that included "growing up, painful or strained family relationships, love for men and friends, and the West itself."

Barnes made her fiction debut in 2003 with the novel Finding Caruso, a "powerful coming-of-age novel blazingly frank about sex and love," according to Booklist critic Seaman. Barnes's first novel features the Hope brothers, orphaned and earning a living in Idaho as singers in a bar. Older brother Lee has the looks and the voice, while teenage Buddy revels in the natural beauty of the state and begins an affair with a mysterious older woman, Irene. Murder, racial hatred, and family secrets all inform this work, which Seaman further characterized as "stunningly dramatic and tensely erotic." A less favorable opinion came from a Kirkus Reviews critic who called the novel a "standard coming-of-ager, told in a polished if somewhat precious voice … that sounds more evocative of Greenwich Village than Idaho." A Publishers Weekly reviewer described Finding Caruso as "a solid, evocative effort that suffers from some muddled plotting but succeeds because of the author's poignant writing about first love." Nancy Zachary, writing in Kliatt, had a more positive assessment of Finding Caruso, terming it a "wonderful bildungsroman" with a "beautifully drawn" setting.

Barnes once again turned to anthology, working as editor with Claire Davis for the 2006 title Kiss Tomorrow Hello: Notes from the Midlife Underground by Twenty-Five Women over Forty. The book is a gathering of voices from a mixture of writers, both urban and rural. Donna L. Davey, writing in Library Journal, praised the "compelling and beautifully written essays" in this "satisfying volume," which includes works by writers such as Mary Clearman Blew, Annick Smith, Beverly Lowry, Joyce Maynard, and Diana Abu-Jaber. A contributor for Publishers Weekly described the collection this way: "Boomer women share their surprise at arriving in midlife and the lessons they've learned along the way." The same reviewer felt that "other boomer women will find much to identify with." And a Kirkus Reviews critic found that reading the collected essays was "like a visit with very honest, very smart friends."



Barnes, Kim, In the Wilderness: Coming of Age in Unknown Country (memoir), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1996.

Barnes, Kim, Hungry for the World: A Memoir, Random House (New York, NY), 2000.


American Library Book Review, February, 1995, review of Circle of Women: An Anthology of Contemporary Western Women Writers, p. 21.

Booklist, July, 1994, review of Circle of Women, p. 1915, 1929; May 1, 1996, Donna Seaman, review of In the Wilderness: Coming of Age in Unknown Country, p. 1485; March 1, 2000, Donna Seaman, review of Hungry for the World: A Memoir, p. 1187; February 12, 2003, Donna Seaman, review of Finding Caruso, p. 1046.

Decatur Daily (Decatur, AL), June 4, 2000, Vivian K. Moore, "A Woman's Struggle against Subservience."

Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 1994, review of Circle of Women, p. 674; February 15, 1996, review of In the Wilderness, p. 269; January 15, 2003, review of Finding Caruso, p. 101; January 1, 2006, review of Kiss Tomorrow Hello: Notes from the Midlife Underground by Twenty-Five Women over Forty, p. 23.

Kliatt, January, 1995, review of Circle of Women, p. 23; March, 2004, Nancy Zachary, review of Finding Caruso, p. 17.

Library Journal, June 1, 1994, Cheryl L. Conway, review of Circle of Women, p. 106; April 1, 2000, Gina Kaiser, review of Hungry for the World, p. 109; March 1, 2003, Jim Coan, review of Finding Caruso, p. 116; April 1, 2006, Donna L. Davey, review of Kiss Tomorrow Hello, p. 113.

New York Times, March 16, 2000, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Hungry for the World; April 2, 2000, Roberta Bernstein, review of Hungry for the World.

Publishers Weekly, June 6, 1994, Maria Simson, review of Circle of Women, p. 61; April 15, 1996, review of In the Wilderness, p. 58; February 21, 2000, review of Hungry for the World, p. 78; March 17, 2003, review of Finding Caruso, p. 54; December 19, 2005, review of Kiss Tomorrow Hello, p. 51.

Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, UT), May 21, 2000, Martin Naparsteck, "The West under Cover."

Western American Literature, summer, 1995, Lynn Cothern, review of Circle of Women, p. 218.


Idaho Commission of Art, (April 16, 2007), "Current Writer in Residence 2005-2008: Kim Barnes.", (March 30, 2001), Maud Casey, review of In the Wilderness.

University of Idaho, Department of English Web site, (April 16, 2007), "Kim Barnes, Creative Writing Associate Professor."

University of Idaho Web site, (April 16, 2007), Jennifer K. Bauer, "Kim Barnes Wins State's Top Award."

About this article

Barnes, Kim 1958–

Updated About content Print Article