Kim Barnes

Kim Barnes is the author of  In the Kingdom of Men, named a best book of 2012 by San Francisco ChronicleThe Seattle Times, and The Oregonian, and long-listed for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Her second novel, A Country Called Home, winner of the 2009 PEN Center USA Literary Award for Fiction, was named a best book of 2008 by The Washington Post, The Kansas City Star, and The Oregonian. She is a recipient of the PEN/Jerard Award in nonfiction for her first memoir, In the Wilderness, which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Her work has appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, including The New York Times,WSJ online, The Georgia Review, Shenandoah, Fourth Genre, Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly, and the Pushcart Prize anthology. She is a professor of English in the MFA program at the University of Idaho. Her website is



Here is the first thing you need to know about me:  I’m a barefoot girl from red-dirt Oklahoma, and all the marble floors in the world will never change that.

Here is the second thing:  that young woman they pulled from the Arabian shore, her hair tangled with mangrove—my husband didn’t kill her, not the way they say he did.

1967. Gin Mitchell knows a better life awaits her when she marries hometown hero Mason McPhee. Raised in a two-room shack by her Oklahoma grandfather, a strict Methodist minister, Gin never believed that someone like Mason, a handsome college boy, the pride of Shawnee, would look her way. And nothing can prepare her for the world she and Mason step into when he takes a job with the Arabian American Oil company in Saudi Arabia. In the gated compound of Abqaiq, Gin and Mason are given a home with marble floors, a houseboy to cook their meals, and a gardener to tend the sandy patch out back. Even among the veiled women and strict laws of shariah, Gin’s life has become the stuff of fairy tales. She buys her first swimsuit, she pierces her ears, and Mason gives her a glittering diamond ring. But when a young Bedouin woman is found dead, washed up on the shores of the Persian Gulf, Gin’s world closes in around her, and the one person she trusts is nowhere to be found. 
Set against the gorgeously etched landscape of a country on the cusp of enormous change, In the Kingdom of Men abounds with sandstorms and locust swarms, shrimp peddlers, pearl divers, and Bedouin caravans—a luminous portrait of life in the desert. Award-winning author Kim Barnes weaves a mesmerizing, richly imagined tale of Americans out of their depth in Saudi Arabia, a marriage in peril, and one woman’s quest for the truth, no matter what it might cost her.

“Lyrical . . . It takes guts to title a novel after a line from the Bible—‘the Most high rules in the kingdom of men’—and then to begin Chapter 1 with possibly the most famous biblical reference available: ‘In the beginning.’ Following through, Kim Barnes casts her protagonist and narrator, a young American girl called Gin, in the image of a certain female character from a certain creation myth. . . . In the Kingdom of Men [is] something more than a novel about an Okie who causes trouble in a foreign land. It’s that, and a feminist bildungsroman.”—Juliet Lapidos, The New York Times Book Review

In the Kingdom of Men resembles Kipling’s Plain Tales from the Hills as much as any other book. The men run the administration of a society made up of darker-skinned and, by definition, inferior people, but the women run the white-skinned men, casting an invisible but exceedingly strong net over the group. . . . The menus here are . . . so enticing that you’ll want to stop reading for a while and put together a sumptuous dinner. . . . A culturally complex story about American venality and greed.” —Carolyn See, The Washington Post

“Seldom has a book drawn me into its clutches as quickly as this one did. By the second sentence I was hooked on the first person account of Virginia Mae Mitchell. . . . With a compelling narrative that never flags, we are quickly transported from the dusty, red clay plains to the seemingly infinite desert sandscapes of Saudi Arabia. . . . From the waves of numbing heat and the vastness of the shimmering desert to blinding sandstorms, Biblical locust invasions, and the insidious, stifling boredom found within the confines of Mad Men-era Americana in the midst of an alien culture, Barnes makes the city of Abqaiq come alive.”—Jay Trachtenberg, The Austin Chronicle

“With courage and zest, Kim Barnes’s novel In the Kingdom of Men takes an intimate look at . . . the rarified and harshly beautiful world of eastern Saudi Arabia. . . . Her Americans are loud and sharp and leaping from the page, casually refilling their cocktail glasses and whooping it up at the Beachcomber’s Ball, some joyfully, some desperately, but all clinging to their own habits while betraying a general disconnection from—and disregard for—the Arabia all around them. And that disregard leads to the dark, tragic heart of the novel. . . . Within these lyrical pages is a story well worth investigating.”—Zoë Ferraris, San Francisco Chronicle

“A swashbuckling, thrilling ride of a book, In The Kingdom of Men transports readers to the sands of Arabia and the recesses of the human heart. Ginny McPhee is a heroine unlike any other, negotiating love, politics, the intricacies of marriage, and the journey to selfhood. A vivid and compelling tale.”—Diana Abu-Jaber, author of Birds of Paradise

“If you want to understand, right in your gut, the history of the American relationship with Saudi Arabia; if you want a magical, layered story of west-inside-east, culture layered over culture, and the slow—still ongoing—revolution of gender and race oppression, In the Kingdom of Men is your book. It’s Mad Men meets The Sheltering Sky, a Revolutionary Road for the oil-addicted. It’s also an utter pleasure to read.”—Anthony Doerr, author of Memory Wall and About Grace

Rights: Knopf/Vintage, North American; Hutchinson, UK; Dreamscape, Audio



Thomas Deracotte is just out of medical school, and his pregnant wife, Helen, have their whole future mapped out for them in upper-crust Connecticut. But they are dreamers, and they set out to create their own farm in rural Idaho instead. The fields are in ruins when they arrive, so they hire a farmhand named Manny to help rebuild. But the sudden, frightening birth of their daughter, Elise, tests the young couple, and Manny is called upon to mend this fractured family. An extraordinary story of hope and idealism, A Country Called Home is a testament to the power of family—the family we are born to and the family we create.

"A newly married couple abandon the comfort of upper-class Connecticut and stake their claim in 1960s Fife, Idaho, in Pulitzer-finalist Barnes's exquisite novel. Thomas and Helen Deracotte—he a young, poor doctor, she a stifled, monied rebel—buy an isolated farm sight unseen and arrive to find it a shambles. Upon arriving in the inhospitable wilderness, Thomas realizes that he would rather live off the land for their daily sustenance than open his own medical practice, and he hires Manny, a handsome teenage vagabond, to help around the farm. When Helen has baby girl Elise, Manny ingratiates himself further with the Deracottes and becomes a loving caretaker. But when the new mother begins to feel suffocated and overwhelmed, she returns to her rebellious ways and finds herself powerfully attracted to Manny. Their relationship has dire consequences for all involved—particularly for Helen and Elise, but nobody gets off easy. Barnes's descriptions of the rugged landscape are vivid, and the characters' sadness and desires are revealed with wrenching detail.

A Kansas City Star Best Book of the Year
A Washington Post Best Book of the Year
An Oregonian Top Ten Northwest Book of the Year

"...Barnes channels the experiences chronicled in her indelible memoir, In the Wilderness, into fiction latticed with mystery, animated by myth, spiked with menace, and rooted in the raw poetry of the Idaho landscape… Barnes ascends in this incandescent novel of sacrifice and devotion, wildness and civilization. Such anguish, such beauty. "—Donna Seaman, Booklist, starred review

"Barnes's descriptions of the rugged landscape are vivid, and the characters' sadness and desires are revealed with wrenching detail. "Publishers Weekly, starred review

“In the literature of the American frontier, few setups are as fertile and reliable as the Easterner come West. . . Because [Barnes] knows the territory so intimately, A Country Called Home is filled with exquisitely etched landscapes. The novel brims with the smell of brambles and berries along an Idaho riverbank, the gritty feel of the dust in an abandoned homesteader’s shack, the sounds of grouse and quail in the fields.”The New York Times Book Review

“Quietly haunting…. [Barnes’s] descriptions of the rugged landscape quiver with stark beauty, wisdom and redemptive grace, much as her characters do.” The Washington Post 

“A seductive book of love and obsession. . . . Some books are easily put down, but the best of them, like A Country Called Home, won’t let go of you.” —Claire Davis, author of Winter Range

“Casts light on the yearning, restless human heart. . . . Powerful.”San Francisco Chronicle 

Rights: Knopf/Vintage, North American


KISS TOMORROW HELLO: Notes From the Midlife Underground by Twenty-five Women Over Forty (2006), co-edited with Claire Davis

A collection of blazingly honest, smart, and often humorous essays on middle age contributed by well-known writers such as Julia Glass, Joyce Maynard, Lolly Winston, Antonya Nelson, Diana Abu-Jaber, Judy Blunt, Lauren Slater, and other voices of the baby boom generation.

In the tradition of the bestselling A Bitch in the HouseKiss Tomorrow Hello brings together the experiences and reflections of women as they embark on a new stage of life. Many women in their forties, fifties, and sixties discover that they are racing uphill, trying desperately to keep their romantic and social lives afloat just as those things they believe constant start to shift: The body begins its inevitable decline, sometimes gracefully, sometimes less so…

The twenty-five stellar writers gathered here explore a wide range of concerns, including keeping love (and sex) alive, discovering family secrets, negotiating the demands of illness and infertility, letting children go, making peace with parents, and contemplating plastic surgery. The tales are true, the confessions candid, and the humor infectious—just what you’d expect from the women whose works represent the best writings of their generation. From Lynn Freed’s wry “Happy Birthday to Me” to Pam Houston’s hilarious “Coffee Dates with a Beefcake”; from Ellen Sussman's "Tearing Up the Sheets" to Julia Glass's "I Have a Crush on Ted Geisel," Kiss Tomorrow Hello is a wise, lyrical, and sexy look at the pleasures and perils of midlife.

"[T]here are several outstanding contributions....No doubt other boomer women will find much to identify with." Publishers Weekly

Rights: Doubleday, North American; Oprah, Good Housekeeping, More, First serial; Ladies Home Journal, Second serial



Seven years separate Buddy from his big brother, Lee, but the boys have always been close, comforting and protecting each other as their father--defeated by poor land and hostile weather--sank deeper into alcohol and rage. When a drink-fueled accident takes not only his life but that of the mother who tried so hard to shield her sons, the boys sell off what little remains of their daddy's tenant farm and leave Oklahoma. It is 1957, and work is still to be had in the logging camps of northern Idaho. But just outside Snake Junction, they stop at a roadhouse, and there, Lee's country-and-western talents get him a job. The two settle in, Lee to his music--and women and drink--and seventeen-year-old Buddy to roaming the landscape, at loose ends until a woman nearly twice his age turns up. Irene Sullivan is a smoky beauty, and Lee makes a play for her. But it is Buddy she wants. By turns darkly violent and heartbreakingly tender, Finding Caruso is a work of extraordinary emotional power from an astonishingly original writer.

"[S]tunningly dramatic and tensely erotic....Barnes is as fluent in provocative metaphors as she is in scenes of profound conflict and revelation..."—Donna Seaman, Booklist (Starred Review) 

“Too good a story to forget…her book [has] the complexity of life.”—Chicago Tribune

"Barnes, a published poet, skillfully uses language to paint an affecting picture of the rural West and its lonely inhabitants."Library Journal Review

 "Solid, evocative…poignant writing about first love…Barnes’s rich, multilayered prose makes this an engaging read."Publishers Weekly

"With prose that is as lyrical and generous as the landscape she portrays, Kim Barnes explores the complexities of familial ties, from their bright passions to their bitter betrayals. Finding Caruso is a work of extraordinary beauty by a writer whose regard for human frailty is both wise and unflinching."—Claire Davis, author of Winter Range

Marian Wood Books, Penguin/Putnam,World English



From the author of the critically acclaimed In the Wilderness, comes a riveting new narrative of self-discovery and personal triumph. Hungry for the World is the story of how an intelligent and passionate young woman, yearning for an understanding of the world beyond her insular family life, found her way.

On the day of her 1976 high school graduation in Lewiston, Idaho, Kim Barnes decided she could no longer abide the patriarchal domination of family and church. After a disagreement with her father–a logger and fervent adherent to the Pentecostal Christian faith–she gathered her few belongings and struck out on her own. She had no skills and no funds, but she had the courage and psychological sturdiness to make her way, and to eventually survive the influence of a man whose dominance was of a different and more menacing sort. Hungry for the World is a classic story of the search for knowledge and its consequences, both dire and beautiful.

"Whether she is recreating the drama of her struggles or conjuring the Idaho wilderness in lyrical passages, Barnes writes beautifully."—Publishers Weekly Review

"...beautifully written...[Barnes describes] her ordeal powerfully... We read her story and bleed for her."—Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times Review

"Barnes' second memoir circles back to her first, In the Wilderness, and reveals a chasm in her personal landscape that she previously left unexplored. She briefly revisits her childhood to reestablish her love for nature and her conflicted relationship with her parents, whose Pentecostal faith so alienated her as a teenager... Young and oppressed by her parents' isolating beliefs and her inability to please her unreachable father, she readily absorbs the message that women want to be dominated and hurt by men. This poison works a dark magic, leading first to a warped sense of self and then to enthrallment to a man who makes such cruel fantasies come true. Candid but dignified, this is a profoundly disturbing story of what can happen to women who are taught to loathe and fear their sexuality, and Barnes tells it with consummate skill, courage, and generosity, transforming her pain into an antidote for others."—Donna Seaman, Booklist

"A work that's a powerful cross – part Loretta Lynn, part Thomas Wolfe.... Barnes displays more expertise with hunting and guns than Hemingway, and more knowledge of sylvan botany and zoology than Thoreau. The lyrical cadence of her description is what truly elevates the memoir to literature....Barnes has given American literature its first cowgirl classic."—Kirkus Reviews



IN THE WILDERNESS: Coming of Age in Unknown Country (1996)

Poet Kim Barnes grew up in northern Idaho, in the isolated camps where her father worked as a logger and her mother made a modest but comfortable home for her husband and two children. Their lives were short on material wealth, but long on the riches of family and friendship, and the great sheltering power of the wilderness. But in the mid-1960's, as automation and a declining economy drove more and more loggers out of the wilderness and into despair, Kim's father dug in and determined to stay. It was then the family turned fervently toward Pentecostalism. It was then things changed.

In the Wilderness is the poet's own account of a journey toward adulthood against an interior landscape every bit as awesome, as beautiful, and as fraught with hidden peril as the great forest itself. It is a story of how both faith and geography can shape the heart and soul, and of the uncharted territory we all must enter to face our demons. Above all, it is the clear-eyed and moving account of a young woman's coming of terms with her family, her homeland, her spirituality, and herself.

In presenting Kim Barnes the 1995 PENJerard Fund Award for a work-in-progress by an emerging female writer, the panel of judges wrote that "In the Wilderness is far more than a personal memoir," adding that it stands "almost as a cautionary example of the power of good prose to distinguish whatever it touches." Indeed, In the Wilderness is an extraordinary work, courageous, candid, and exquisitely written.

“We readers often approach poets’ memoirs warily:  There is only so far that lovely, delicately crafted reminiscences of childhood can really take us.  They deliver pleasure, easily, but rarely go beyond it to the kind of bold, perspective-wrenching joy that is the province of real literature.  Barnes’s book forces reconsideration of the form….  This is a book about humility, and how one is of one’s origins, no matter how far a person has traveled in imagination, artistry, and insight.”Library Journal

"Sad and beautiful...a book about humility, and how one is of one's origins, no matter how far a person has traveled in imagination, artistry, and insight."Kirkus Reviews

“Kim Barnes’ elegiac memoir is an eloquent cry of loss for the Idaho forest in which, as a logger’s child, she spent the first twelve years of her life.”San Francisco Chronicle

"Moving...precise and honest...[Barnes] draws the extraordinary out of everyday life."Philadelphia Inquirer

"Engrossing...revealing, spiritual, cleansing, transcendent--and awash in the elements that make life's flow so unpredictable, wonderful, and often haunting."Chicago Tribune

“Barnes writes forgivingly about an unforgiving world, and her work shines with both innocence and wisdom.”Glamour

Doubleday, Anchor