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Campbell, Bebe Moore

Bebe Moore Campbell

1950–

Journalist, writer, educator

Bebe Moore Campbell contributed important writings of both fiction and nonfiction during her lifetime. In her books and numerous pieces for periodicals, Campbell tackled the complexities of African-American life, probing the relationships between spouses, parents and children; the struggle of communities caught in the grip of racism; and the stigma of mental illness.

Campbell intentionally wrote to make a point. "To me, there's no point in writing merely to entertain. I have to entertain, because if I don't entertain you, you're not going to continue reading. But if I'm not out to enlighten, or change your mind about something, or change your behavior, then I really don't want to take the journey," as she once related to Andrea Sachs of Time.com. In her writing and her later advocacy work on the behalf of the mentally ill, Campbell's mission to make the world a more humane place shone through.

Raised by Divorced Parents

Campbell was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on February 18, 1950. Campbell's parents divorced when she was an infant. Only months later, when she was still less than a year old, her father, George Moore, was permanently disabled in a severe automobile accident. Campbell spent most of the year with her mother and grandmother in Philadelphia, where her mother earned a living as a social worker. Summers, however, were the province of her dad, who would drive from his home in North Carolina to retrieve his daughter for an extended vacation with his family. As Alexis Moore remarked in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Campbell's summers "brought into her life the masculine element deeply craved, if only dimly understood, by a 7-year-old who could have 'died from overexposure to femininity,' a girl who lived in 'a world of no morning stubble, no long johns or Fruit of the Loom on clotheslines … no beer in the refrigerator, no ball game on TV, no loud cussing.'"

Campbell was tempted to write about her youth in response to the debate about the importance of two-parent involvement with children. "Studies show that girls without that nurturing from a father or surrogate father are likely to grow up with damaged self-esteem and are more likely to have problems with their own adult relationships with men," the author told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "I think it's very important at this time for black people to see that there are fathers, despite divorce, that stuck around and were responsible. We know in the black community, or come to expect, that mothers stick around and are responsible. And it's not that I don't give my mother credit for doing that. I do. But it's very important at this point that we can look at some black male images that we can be proud of and to inspire some men who aren't doing what they are supposed to be doing."

Campbell's memoir Sweet Summer describes the nurturing she received not only from her father, but also from other important male role models—a school teacher, a minister, and a neighbor. She also reminisces about the mother and grandmother who raised her during the school year, a pair of women she calls "the Bosoms" for their protective yet powerful presence in her life. A Philadelphia Inquirer reviewer concluded: "While Sweet Summer is infused with experience unique to African American culture, it speaks to the universals of human experience: the confusion and excitement of awakening sensuality, the inevitable disillusionment that children face when it comes to parents, the ways men view women and women view men. The author omits nothing, from the most complex and vital relationships of her life to her political awakening during the shining possibilities and harsh realities of the civil rights movement. Campbell weaves fictional techniques and the rhythms of black speech into a fresh, funny and knowing saga that will intrigue those unfamiliar with our idioms and amuse those who grew up with them."

Turned to Writing

Campbell graduated from the Philadelphia High School for Girls and attended the University of Pittsburgh, where she majored in early childhood education. She became a teacher in 1970 and worked for several years in that profession. Then—in a watershed moment—she took a writing course with well-known African American author Toni Cade Bambara in 1976. The course excited Campbell more than teaching, and she began to submit articles to magazines and newspapers.

Campbell's idea of writing a memoir came to her as early as 1977, when her father died in an automobile accident. Before she published that work, however, she finished another. It was Successful Women, Angry Men: Backlash in the Two-Career Marriage, a non-fictional account of the conflicting expectations between working women and their partners. Campbell drew from her own experiences as well as those of dozens of other two-career couples in order to penetrate the subject. The author told the Philadelphia Inquirer that she made many striking discoveries during her research for the book. "A lot of women are stunned by what they regard as the price of success," she said. "Men understand hard work, the politics of business, the reasons for having a drink with the boss, the reality of moving when the company says to move. Women are stunned to find out how hard it is to be successful—the hours required, the adjustments…. A lot of women are turned off and burned out…. I would ask [women] to consider the significance of the amorphous thing called success. I would ask them to define success, to be clear on how much success they want, how badly they want it, what it would take for them to get it."

Tackled Story of Civil Rights

Campbell was only five years old when a young teenager named Emmett Till was discovered in Mississippi's Tallahatchie River, the victim of a brutal murder. People of color all over America followed the Till story and the subsequent trial of three white men, who were all acquitted by a white jury. Washington Post contributor Mae Ghalwash observed that as Campbell grew up in Philadelphia, "the youth [Till] drifted in and out of her own conversations." Her mother, aunts, and uncles talked about the case. Campbell told the Boston Globe that Till "was a very real ghostlike presence in my life and in the lives of a lot of blacks. He catapulted us into civil rights. He died, he was murdered, in August (1955), and Rosa Parks refused to move on the bus in Birmingham the next month, in September. Emmett Till wasn't only murdered but brutally disfigured. It was worse than a lynching. Lynchings were anonymous. But this was personal. This trial got into the newspapers. The trial was ugly."

At a Glance …

Born Elizabeth Bebe Moore on February 18, 1950, in Philadelphia, PA; died on November 27, 2006, in Los Angeles, CA; daughter of George and Doris Moore; married Tiko Campbell (divorced), married Ellis Gordon, Jr., 1984; children: Maia (first marriage), Ellis, III (stepson). Education: University of Pittsburgh, BS, education, 1971.

Career: Atlanta, GA, public school teacher, 1970s; freelance journalist; author, 1986–2006; commentator for National Public Radio, 1989–2005.

Memberships: National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, Inglewood, CA, chapter.

Awards: NAACP Image Award, 1992; National Alliance for the Mentally Ill Outstanding Literature Award, 2003.

That tragic episode inspired Campbell to write her first novel, Your Blues Ain't Like Mine. Based only loosely on the Till case, Campbell's novel tells the story of Armstrong Todd, a fifteen-year-old Chicago native who loses his life during a summer visit to rural Mississippi. The tale not only explores Todd's fate after he mutters a few words of French in the presence of a white woman, but it also charts the fortunes of his fictitious murderers in the decades following the incident. Ghalwash wrote: "In a span of about three decades, Blues explores a tangle of racial issues. Campbell probes deep into the psychological and sociological pressures of the segregated South that lead to racial prejudice and ultimately to violence." The book traces the possible repercussions of aggressive acts and culminates in the emergence of what Campbell called the "new enemy of African Americans today—gang wars." The reviewer added: "What happened to the killers of Armstrong Todd is not unlike the fate of the accused murderers of Emmett Till. Although they are acquitted by an all-white jury, their lives crumble into poverty, fear and miserable marriages. Thus Campbell's message: If society withholds justice, life doesn't."

Your Blues Ain't Like Mine was first published in 1992, and within months Campbell was being hailed as an important new voice in African American letters. Newsday essayist Francine Prose noted that the book "spans the turbulent decades and upheavals of our country's recent history, from the passionate commitment of the civil rights movement to the divisiveness and confusion surrounding the Vietnam War to the contemporary inner-cityscape…. We finish Campbell's novel eager to see what she will write next, and even more eager to believe in her vision of recovery and repair." Emerge magazine reviewer Karen Taylor concluded that Campbell's first novel "ranks with such classic works as Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, and Alice Walker's Meridian."

Inspired to Break Stereotypes

Campbell published her second novel, Brothers and Sisters, in 1994. This novel was set in Los Angeles following the riots that occurred after the Rodney King verdict. The plot of Brothers and Sisters revolves around two women, one African American and one white. Despite the fact that they have greatly differing opinions regarding issues such as affirmative action, white privilege, and the criminal justice system, the two women become friends. The novel focuses on the intricacies of the interactions between the two women. Brothers and Sisters appeared on the New York Times best-seller list and was widely hailed by critics. Christopher John Farley praised the novel in Time: "Writing with wit and grace, Campbell shows how all our stories-white, black, female-ultimately intertwine." Ms. reviewer Retha Powers commended Campbell for her "astute observations about the subtleties of race and race relations in the U.S." In the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, Campbell explained the reason why she wrote Brothers and Sisters: "We've got to start getting past stereotypes, and anger, and fear, if we're going to have any semblance of racial harmony in this country. We have to make color our joy, not our burden."

In 1998, Campbell published a new novel entitled Singing in the Comeback Choir. The plot of the novel focuses on a woman who sacrifices a career as a singer to raise her granddaughter, who grows up to become a successful businesswoman. The grandmother eventually gets another chance to resurrect her singing career. Singing in the Comeback Choir is an uplifting tale that conveys the message that it is never too late to pursue one's dreams. As Campbell told Jet, the novel illustrates that "with support and with love and commitment, a second chance is possible, if you are willing to work at it…. Anybody can have a second chance."

Campbell released a powerful novel in 2001 entitled What You Owe Me. The novel encompasses the acquaintance, developing friendship, business partnership, and dissolution of trust between two women: a black woman and a Holocaust survivor. The novel tracks how the fissure in the two women's relationship reverberates through their families for three generations. The Los Angeles Times honored it as one of the best books of 2001.

Became Mental Illness Advocate

Campbell's focus turned to health issues in the late 1990s when she began caring for a relative with bipolar disorder, otherwise known as manic depression. At first Campbell felt "very stigmatized by this illness that had no business in my family," as she explained to Kenneth Meeks of Black Enterprise. "And it took me years to come to grips with it and to control the impact it had on my life. And those were years of secrecy and shame." Once she came "to grips with it" she did not let go.

Campbell became an energetic spokesperson for mental illness, working to eliminate the stigma attached to it and advocating for sufferers and their families. "Crazy is just not a useful word anymore. I want it to be the new 'N' word," Campbell told Peachie Pleasants of Afro American, "where people really refrain from using the word 'crazy.' It is what makes people with mental illness go into denial to avoid being labeled." To further her quest, Campbell co-founded the Inglewood, California, chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. And, of course, she wrote. In 2003 she published Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry, a children's book about a young girl being raised by a mentally ill mother, and wrote a play about mental illness entitled Even with the Madness. In 2005 Campbell released her last novel, 72 Hour Hold, a story depicting the relationship between a mother and her teenage daughter, who is afflicted with bipolar disorder, and how they struggle to cope with each other, insurance regulations, and society.

Campbell's own health declined rapidly in 2006. She died of brain cancer at her Los Angeles home on November 27, 2006. She was 56 years old. Her writings will now carry on the work she no longer can. "If this is a fair world, Bebe Moore Campbell will be remembered as the most important African-American novelist of this century—except for maybe, Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin," once wrote Washington Post book reviewer Carolyn See.

Selected writings

Children's books

Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry, Putnam, 2003.
Stompin' at the Savoy, Philomel, 2006.

Nonfiction

Successful Women, Angry Men: Backlash in the Two-Career Marriage, 1986; reprint, Berkley, 2002.
Sweet Summer: Growing Up With and Without My Dad (memoir), Ballantine, 1990.

Novels

Your Blues Ain't Like Mine, Putnam, 1992.
Brothers and Sisters, Putnam, 1994.
Singing in the Comeback Choir, Putnam, 1998.
What You Owe Me, Penguin Putnam, 2001.
72 Hour Hold, Knopf, 2005.

Sources

Periodicals

Afro-American, September 10-September 15, 2005, p. B9.

Boston Globe, October 26, 1992, p. 32.

Chicago Tribune, October 25, 1992, p. 5; February 19, 1993, p. 1.

Emerge, February 1993, p. 69.

Jet, March 30, 1998, p. 39.

Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, November 2, 1994, p. 1102.

Los Angeles Times, December 2, 2001, p. 1; November 28, 2006, p. B9.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 6, 1992, p. 3.

Ms., September/October 1994, p. 78.

Newsday (Long Island, NY), August 20, 1992, p. 62; September 27, 1992, p. 34.

New York Times, November 28, 2006, p. 21.

Philadelphia Inquirer, April 30, 1987; June 11, 1989, p. F-4; August 1, 1989, p. E-1; December 27, 1992, p. F-3.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 28, 2006, p. A1.

San Francisco Chronicle, September 20, 1992, p. 7.

Time, October 17, 1994, p. 81.

Washington Post, October 10, 1992, p. D-1, D-10; November 28, 2006, p. B6.

On-line

"Between the Lines with Bebe Moore Campbell," Time.com, www.time.com/time/columnist/sachs/article/0,9565,1090784,00.html (November 30, 2006).

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"Campbell, Bebe Moore." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Campbell, Bebe Moore 1950–

Bebe Moore Campbell 1950

Journalist, author

A Childhood of Sweet Summers

Social Journalist, Successful Novelist

Tragic Inspiration

Selected writings

Sources

Bebe Moore Campbell is establishing a reputation as an important younger African American writer of both fiction and nonfiction. In her books and numerous pieces for periodicals, Campbell probes the complexities of relationships between spouses, parents and children, and members of communities caught in the grip of racism. Both her memoir, Sweet Summer: Growing Up With and Without My Dad, and her debut novel, Your Blues Aint Like Mine, have drawn praise from critics and have sparked interest in Hollywood for their potential as feature films. Washington Post correspondent John Katzenbach, for instance, commended Campbell for her thoughtful, intelligent work, adding that the author has a strong creative voice and will probably only improve after this notable beginning.

Campbell was born in 1950 and grew up influenced by the civil rights battles of the 1950s and 1960s. She turned to journalism in 1976 as a means to express her own frustrations and describe her own discoveries, and within a few years was a regular contributor to Ebony, Essence, and several major urban newspapers. Campbell continues her journalistic contributions today, both as an editor of Essence and as a regular commentator for National Public Radio. It is through her book-length writings, however, that she has found the best means to explore themes and concerns that resonate throughout her life. Campbell has a storytellers ear for dialogue and the visual sense of painting a picture and a place that make [fiction] sing, noted Veronica Chambers in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. She has the grown-up maturity to point out right from wrong, yet at the same time she never forgets how a child might see thingswhether the child be the black boy who knows hes going to die or the white boy who kills because it is what his father wants him to do.

A Childhood of Sweet Summers

Campbells parents divorced when she was an infant. Only months later, when she was still less than a year old, her father, George Moore, was permanently disabled in a severe automobile accident. The youngster grew up spending most of the year with her mother and grandmother in Philadelphia, where her mother earned a living as a social worker. Summers, however, were the province of her dad, who would drive from his home in North Carolina to retrieve his daughter for an extended vacation with his family. As Alexis Moore put it in the Philadelphia Inquirer,

At a Glance

Born in 1950 in Philadelphia, PA; daughter of George and Doris Moore; married twice, second husbands name Ellis Gordon, Jr. (a banker); children: one daughter, one stepson. Education: University of Pittsburgh, B.A., C. 1968.

Public school teacher, 1970-76; journalist, 1976; author of books, 1988. Contributing editor, Essence; commentator for National Public Radio.

Awards: NAACP Image Awards, 1994.

Addresses: c/o The Putnam Publishing Group, 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016.

Campbells summers brought into her life the masculine element deeply craved, if only dimly understood, by a 7-year-old who could have died from overexposure to femininity, a girl who lived in a world of no morning stubble, no long Johns or Fruit of the Loom on clotheslines no beer in the refrigerator, no ball game on TV, no loud cussing.

Campbell was tempted to write about her youth in response to the current debate about the importance of two-parent involvement with children. Studies show that girls without that nurturing from a father or surrogate father are likely to grow up with damaged self-esteem and are more likely to have problems with their own adult relationships with men, the author told the Philadelphia Inquirer. I think its very important at this time for black people to see that there are fathers, despite divorce, that stuck around and were responsible. We know in the black community, or come to expect, that mothers stick around and are responsible. And its not that I dont give my mother credit for doing that. I do. But its very important at this point that we can look at some black male images that we can be proud of and to inspire some men who arent doing what they are supposed to be doing.

Campbells memoir Sweet Summer describes the nurturing she received not only from her father, but also from other important male role modelsa school teacher, a minister, a neighbor. She also reminisces about the mother and grandmother who raised her during the school year, a pair of women she calls the Bosoms for their protective yet powerful presence in her life. A Philadelphia Inquirer reviewer concluded: While Sweet Summer is infused with experience unique to African American culture, it speaks to the universals of human experience: the confusion and excitement of awakening sensuality, the inevitable disillusionment that children face when it comes to parents, the ways men view women and women view men. The author omits nothing, from the most complex and vital relationships of her life to her political awakening during the shining possibilities and harsh realities of the civil rights movement. Campbell weaves fictional techniques and the rhythms of black speech into a fresh, funny and knowing saga that will intrigue those unfamiliar with our idioms and amuse those who grew up with them.

Campbell graduated from the Philadelphia High School for Girls and attended the University of Pittsburgh, where she majored in early childhood education. She became a teacher in 1970 and worked for several years in that profession. Thenin a watershed momentshe took a writing course with well-known African American author Toni Cade Bambara in 1976. The course excited Campbell more than teaching, and she began to submit articles to magazines and newspapers. Before long her work was appearing in national periodicals such as Essence and Ebony, as well as in the pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Social Journalist, Successful Novelist

Campbells idea of writing a memoir came to her as early as 1977, when her father died in an automobile accident. Before she published that work, however, she finished another. It was Successful Women, Angry Men: Backlash in the Two-Career Marriage, a nonfictional account of the conflicting expectations between working women and their partners. Campbell drew from her own experiences as well as those of dozens of other two-career couples in order to penetrate the subject. The author told the Philadelphia Inquirer that she made many striking discoveries during her research for the book. A lot of women are stunned by what they regard as the price of success, she said. Men understand hard work, the politics of business, the reasons for having a drink with the boss, the reality of moving when the company says to move. Women are stunned to find out how hard it is to be successfulthe hours required, the adjustments. A lot of women are turned off and burned out. I would ask [women] to consider the significance of the amorphous thing called success. I would ask them to define success, to be clear on how much success they want, how badly they want it, what it would take for them to get it.

Campbells involvement with the issue of working couples brought her wider recognition by national audiences. She could be seen commenting on the subject on television programs such as The Oprah Winfrey Show, and she also addressed the topic as a regular commentator on National Public Radio. By the mid-1980s she was established as a frequent contributor to Essence on many topics pertaining to black women and their concerns. Even so, she still found time to bend her imagination toward a subject that had haunted her since childhood.

Tragic Inspiration

Campbell was only five years old when a young teenager named Emmett Till was discovered in Mississippis Tallahatchie River, the victim of a brutal murder. People of color all over America followed the Till story and the subsequent trial of three white men, who were all acquitted by a white jury. Washington Post contributor Mae Ghalwash observed that as Campbell grew up in Philadelphia, the youth [Till] drifted in and out of her own conversations. Her mother, aunts, and uncles talked about the case. She read about it in the pages of the magazines she would someday write for, Ebony and Jet. The author told the Boston Globe that Till was a very real ghostlike presence in my life and in the lives of a lot of blacks. He catapulted us into civil rights. He died, he was murdered, in August (1955), and Rosa Parks refused to move on the bus in Birmingham the next month, in September. Emmett Till wasnt only murdered but brutally disfigured. It was worse than a lynching. Lynchings were anonymous. But this was personal. This trial got into the newspapers. The trial was ugly.

That tragic episode inspired Campbell to write her first novel, Your Blues Aint Like Mine. Based only loosely on the Till case, Campbells novel tells the story of Armstrong Todd, a fifteen-year-old Chicago native who loses his life during a summer visit to rural Mississippi. The tale not only explores Todds fate after he mutters a few words of French in the presence of a white woman, but it also charts the fortunes of his fictitious murderers in the decades following the incident. Ghalwash wrote: In a span of about three decades, Blues explores a tangle of racial issues. Campbell probes deep into the psychological and sociological pressures of the segregated South that lead to racial prejudice and ultimately to violence. The book traces the possible repercussions of aggressive acts and culminates in the emergence of what Campbell calls the new enemy of African Americans todaygang wars. The reviewer added: What happened to the killers of Armstrong Todd is not unlike the fate of the accused murderers of Emmett Till. Although they are acquitted by an all-white jury, their lives crumble into poverty, fear and miserable marriages. Thus Campbells message: If society withholds justice, life doesnt.

Your Blues Aint Like Mine was first published in 1992, and within months Campbell was being hailed as an important new voice in African American letters. Newsday essayist Francine Prose noted that the book spans the turbulent decades and upheavals of our countrys recent history, from the passionate commitment of the civil rights movement to the divisiveness and confusion surrounding the Vietnam War to the contemporary inner-cityscape.We finish Campbells novel eager to see what she will write next, and even more eager to believe in her vision of recovery and repair. Emerge magazine reviewer Karen Taylor concluded that Campbells first novel ranks with such classic works as Ralph Ellisons Invisible Man, Toni Morrisons The Bluest Eye, and Alice Walkers Meridian.

Campbell, who lives in Los Angeles with her second husband, a stepson, and a daughter, told the Chicago Tribune that she wrote Your Blues Aint Like Mine in order to put a human face on racism. She found that the project brought her many benefits beyond her enhanced reputation as a writer. I write to heal myself, and to help begin healing in others, she said. I wanted to create a story that is very clear that life gives you justice, even if society withholds it.

Selected writings

Successful Women, Angry Men: Backlash in the Two-Career Marriage, out of print.

Sweet Summer: Growing Up With and Without My Dad (memoir), Ballantine, 1990.

Your Blues Aint Like Mine (novel), Putnam, 1992.

(Contributor) Wild Women Dont Wear Blue: Black Women Writers on Love, Men and Sex, edited by Marita Golden, Doubleday, 1993.

Work has appeared in New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Ebony, Essence, Ms., Black Enterprise, and other periodicals.

Sources

Boston Globe, October 26, 1992, p. 32.

Chicago Tribune, October 25, 1992, p. 5; February 19, 1993, p. 1.

Emerge, February 1993, p. 69.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 6, 1992, p. 3.

Newsday (Long Island, NY), August 20, 1992, p. 62; September 27, 1992, p. 34.

Philadelphia Inquirer, April 30, 1987; June 11, 1989, p. F-4; August 1, 1989, p. E-1; December 27, 1992, p. F-3.

San Francisco Chronicle, September 20, 1992, p. 7.

Washington Post, October 10, 1992, p. D-1, D-10.

Anne Janette Johnson

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"Campbell, Bebe Moore 1950–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Campbell, Bebe Moore

Bebe Moore Campbell

American writer Bebe Moore Campbell (1950–2006) produced several acclaimed novels before her untimely death in 2006. A journalist who made the successful transition to fiction in the 1990s, "Campbell was part of the first wave of black novelists who made the lives of upwardly mobile black people a routine subject for popular fiction," wrote Margalit Fox in the New York Times. "Straddling the divide between literary and mass-market novels, Ms. Campbell's work explored not only the turbulent dance between blacks and whites but also the equally fraught relationship between men and women."

Born on February 18, 1950, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as Elizabeth Bebe Moore, the future novelist was the only child of Philadelphia native Doris Carter Moore, a social worker, and a college graduate from North Carolina, George Moore. The pair settled in North Carolina, "where my father was the county farm agent," Campbell wrote in an article about her parents that appeared in Essence. "There my father learned that he'd married a woman who couldn't cook and had a penchant for correcting his grammar in public. And my mother discovered that the dark eyes that had wooed her had a tendency to stray, that my father drank too much and drove way too fast." This final trait proved George Moore's undoing: ten months after his daughter was born, he was involved in a car crash that left him a paraplegic.

Divided by Parental Loyalties

Campbell's mother, unable to find work in the segregated South that would support them all, returned to Philadelphia with her daughter, found a job, and moved in with her own mother in North Philadelphia. With Campbell's grandmother caring for her while her own mother was at work, she emerged as a diligent, straight-A student at Logan Elementary School and, later, Philadelphia High School for Girls. Summers were spent in North Carolina with her father, whom she idolized, and the less structured, rural Southern way of life marked a distinct contrast to her life back in the city. "I used to write letters to my father and tell him serial stories to keep him writing back quickly," Campbell told one interviewer about her first forays into creative writing, according to the Philadelphia Daily News. "He would write back to get the next installment of the story and he would say the story was really good. So I got a lot of praise for it, and that was very important to me."

Campbell graduated summa cum laude from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in elementary education in 1971, and taught school in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C., for the next few years. A marriage to her high school boyfriend ended in divorce not long after the birth of her daughter, Maia, and around this same time she managed to sell a short story to Essence magazine. She was elated by seeing her name in print, but became discouraged when subsequent submissions were rejected for publication. Desperate to find out why, she learned that the magazine's editor was scheduled to speak at a conference hosted by Howard University in Washington, where Campbell was living. She brought along her infant daughter and a friend to hold the baby while she followed the editor into the ladies room after her time at the podium ended. Campbell waited until the woman came out of the stall, then introduced herself and explained why she was there. The editor told her, "'We don't buy that much fiction. If you want to write for us regularly, can you write nonfiction articles?'" Campbell recalled in an interview with Julia M. Klein of the Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service. "And I said 'Yes.' I'd never written one in my life."

Wrote First Book

By 1980 Campbell's byline was appearing regularly in the magazine over articles about single parenthood, travel, and work life, bearing such titles as "Diary of a Corporate Misfit," and she was also writing regularly for Black Enterprise as well. She moved to Los Angeles in 1984, and one of her first articles for a national magazine with a gender-, not race-specific readership came in the May 1985 issue of Savvy and was titled "Backlash in the Bedroom," about the potential problems that women with careers equal or even surpassing their husbands' sometimes faced. The inspiration for the article had been her own first marriage, but by this point she had married a banker, Ellis Gordon, Jr. The article led to an offer to write a book, and Random House published her debut, Successful Women, Angry Men: Backlash in the Two-Career Marriage in late 1986. In an interview with U.S. News & World Report a few months later, Campbell explained that "the backlash is men's angry reaction to the feeling that women care more for their jobs than for them," and cited the various forms the hostility might take, such as adultery.

Another magazine article that Campbell penned, this one about Father's Day, became the basis for her second book. Sweet Summer: Growing Up With and Without My Dad was published in 1989, and in it she wrote about George Moore's sudden death in 1977, when she was a young wife and mother, from another car accident. She wrote of the North Carolina funeral, and of the many uncles and lifelong friends of her father. "My loss was more than his death, much more…. My father took to his grave the short-sleeved, beer-swilling men of summer, big bellies, raucous laughter, pipe smoke and the aroma of cigars," she mourned, in an excerpt that appeared in Essence. "My daddy is really gone and his vacant place is my cold, hard border. As always, my life is framed by his absence."

Campbell finally returned to writing fiction when Putnam, her publisher, accepted her novel Your Blues Ain't Like Mine for publication. She built the story around a real-life event, however—the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Chicago teen whose body was dumped in a river in rural Mississippi after being brutally beaten to death. Till had been visiting family, and reportedly whistled at a white woman whose husband, Roy Bryant, was one of the two men later acquitted of the crime. The crime made national headlines and was said to have influenced public opinion favorably for stronger federal measures needed to combat racism in the South. Campbell's book presented a fictional tale of the two families, the Tills and the Bryants, and what happened to each after the tragedy. A reviewer for Time commended Campbell's fiction debut, asserting she "offers a powerful reminder that racism is a crime for which everyone pays."

Second Novel Set in L.A.

Campbell's second novel, Brothers and Sisters, appeared two years later and made it onto the bestseller list. Set in contemporary Los Angeles, the story centers around a group of bank employees around the time of the riots that devastated the city in the spring of 1992. The novel is anchored by Esther Johnson, a successful black executive, and the various work-related dramas that played out just before the city erupted in violence and flames after the acquittal of several black police officers charged with beating Rodney King, a black motorist. Campbell herself recalled being outraged at the King verdict in May of 1992. She told Klein, "I was just quaking with anger. I could have thrown a brick."

Another high-earning, ambitious African-American female was the focus of Campbell's next work of fiction, Singing in the Comeback Choir, which also spent time on the New York Times bestseller list after it appeared in 1998. Los Angeles television producer Maxine McCoy is struggling to save her marriage, but is also worrying about her grandmother, a strong-willed sort who refuses to leave her home even though the neighborhood has fallen into considerable decline. Maxine flies east to visit her, recalling the streets of her childhood, which had always given off an "air of hardscrabble prosperity, as men and women who'd come up from rural Virginia and the Carolinas set off for factories in the morning. The children were left in the care of stern southern grandmothers…. As Maxine looked around her now, the same question she'd been asking herself for years rose in her mind: How could we have fallen so far?"

What You Owe Me, Campbell's fourth novel, was published in 2001. Once again, she built a story around race relations and generational passages, this time in the tale of two vastly different women who become unlikely friends in late 1940s Los Angeles. Gilda is a refugee from war-torn Europe and a Holocaust survivor, while Hosanna has also had her share of misfortune. They eventually start a business that grows into a successful cosmetics empire, but Gilda betrays Hosanna, and the anger infects a second generation. "Buried below the story's rhythm and colorful characters are messages from which everyone, at some point in life, should be able to draw lessons," wrote Althia Gamble in Black Issues Book Review.

Examined Mental Illness from Child's Viewpoint

Campbell's next work seemed an abrupt shift from her previous efforts. The illustrated children's story Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry provided soothing words for young readers with a family member suffering from bipolar disorder. The story is told through the voice of a young girl, who has a loving grandparent to explain difficult ideas to her and suggest coping strategies. Campbell confessed in some media interviews that bipolar disorder had been an issue in her own family, an admission repeated, albeit in anonymous form, in similar publicity interviews for her next book, 72 Hour Hold, the story of a mother struggling to help her 18-year-old daughter, a victim of bipolar disorder. The novel won praise from Ariel Swartley in Los Angeles Magazine, who commended the author for her "ability to blend ingredients that literature has long considered to be hopelessly at odds: practical information and poetry, stump speech and darn good yarn."

Campbell's second children's book, Stompin' at the Savoy, appeared in 2006. Sadly, that work would be the last to appear in her lifetime; diagnosed with brain cancer in early 2006, she died at the age of 56 on November 27, 2006, in Los Angeles. In one of the last interviews she gave, she discussed her family's experiences with mental illness, and the solace she found in support groups. "We don't want to talk about it," she explained to Kenneth Meeks of Black Enterprise, of her involvement in the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, whose Inglewood, California, chapter she co-founded. "I didn't want to talk about it, either. I went into denial. I was ashamed. I was very stigmatized by this illness that had no business in my family."

Books

Singing in the Comeback Choir, Putnam, 1998.

Sweet Summer: Growing Up With and Without My Dad, Putnam, 1989.

Periodicals

Black Enterprise, April 2006.

Black Issues Book Review, July 2001.

Booklist, December 15, 1997.

Essence, June 1989; January 1998; June 2001.

Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, September 14, 1994.

Los Angeles Magazine, August 2005.

Newsweek, April 29, 1996.

New York Times, November 28, 2006.

Philadelphia Daily News, November 28, 2006.

Time, November 9, 1992; October 17, 1994.

U.S. News & World Report, February 23, 1987.

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Campbell, Bebe Moore 1950–

Bebe Moore Campbell 1950

Journalist, author

A Childhood of Sweet Summers

Social Journalist, Successful Novelist

Tragic Inspiration

Selected writings

Sources

Bebe Moore Campbell is establishing a reputation as an important African American writer of both fiction and nonfiction. In her books and numerous pieces for periodicals, Campbell probes the complexities of relationships between spouses, parents and children, and members of communities caught in the grip of racism. Both her memoir, Sweet Summer: Growing Up With and Without My Dad, and her novels, Your Blues Aint Like Mine and Brothers and Sisters, drew praise from literary critics. Washington Post correspondent John Katzenbach, for instance, commended Campbell for her thoughtful, intelligent work, adding that the author has a strong creative voice and will probably only improve.

Campbell was born in 1950 and grew up influenced by the civil rights battles of the 1950s and 1960s. She turned to journalism in 1976 as a means to express her own frustrations and describe her own discoveries, and within a few years was a regular contributor to Ebony, Essence, and several major urban newspapers. It is through her book-length writings, however, that she has found the best means to explore themes and concerns that resonate throughout her life. Campbell has a storytellers ear for dialogue and the visual sense of painting a picture and a place that make [fiction] sing, noted Veronica Chambers in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. She has the grown-up maturity to point out right from wrong, yet at the same time she never forgets how a child might see things-whether the child be the black boy who knows hes going to die or the white boy who kills because it is what his father wants him to do.

A Childhood of Sweet Summers

Campbells parents divorced when she was an infant. Only months later, when she was still less than a year old, her father, George Moore, was permanently disabled in a severe automobile accident. Campbell spent most of the year with her mother and grandmother in Philadelphia, where her mother earned a living as a social worker. Summers, however, were the province of her dad, who would drive from his home in North Carolina to retrieve his daughter for an extended vacation with his family. As Alexis Moore remarked in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Campbells summers brought into her life the masculine element deeply craved, if only dimly understood,

At a Glance

Born in 1950 in Philadelphia, PA; daughter of George and Doris Moore; married twice, second husbands name Ellis Gordon, Jr. (a banker); children: one daughter, one stepson. Education: University of Pittsburgh, B.A., c 1968.

Career: Public school teacher, 1970-76; author: Sweet Summer: Crowing Up With and Without My Dad, 1990; Your Blues Aint Like Mine, 1992; Brothers and Sisters, 1994; Singing in the Comeback Choir, 1998; commentator for National Public Radio.

Addresses: c/o The Putnam Publishing Group, 200 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016.

by a 7-year-old who could have died from overexposure to femininity/a girl who lived in, a world of no morning stubble, no long Johns or Fruit of the Loom on clotheslines no beer in the refrigerator, no ball game on TV, no loud cussing.

Campbell was tempted to write about her youth in response to the debate about the importance of two-parent involvement with children. Studies show that girls without that nurturing from a father or surrogate father are likely to grow up with damaged self-esteem and are more likely to have problems with their own adult relationships with men, the author told the Philadelphia Inquirer. I think its very important at this time for black people to see that there are fathers, despite divorce, that stuck around and were responsible. We know in the black community, or come to expect, that mothers stick around and are responsible. And its not that I dont give my mother credit for doing that. I do. But its very important at this point that we can look at some black male images that we can be proud of and to inspire some men who arent doing what they are supposed to be doing.

Campbells memoir Sweet Summer describes the nurturing she received not only from her father, but also from other important male role models--a school teacher, a minister, and a neighbor. She also reminisces about the mother and grandmother who raised her during the school year, a pair of women she calls the Bosoms for their protective yet powerful presence in her life. A Philadelphia Inquirer reviewer concluded: While Sweet Summer is infused with experience unique to African American culture, it speaks to the universale of human experience: the confusion and excitement of awakening sensuality, the inevitable disillusionment that children face when it comes to parents, the ways men view women and women view men. The author omits nothing, from the most complex and vital relationships of her life to her political awakening during the shining possibilities and harsh realities of the civil rights movement. Campbell weaves fictional techniques and the rhythms of black speech into a fresh, funny and knowing saga that will intrigue those unfamiliar with our idioms and amuse those who grew up with them.

Campbell graduated from the Philadelphia High School for Girls and attended the University of Pittsburgh, where she majored in early childhood education. She became a teacher in 1970 and worked for several years in that profession. Thenin a watershed moment-she took a writing course with well-known African American author Toni Cade Bambara in 1976. The course excited Campbell more than teaching, and she began to submit articles to magazines and newspapers.

Social Journalist, Successful Novelist

Campbells idea of writing a memoir came to her as early as 1977, when her father died in an automobile accident. Before she published that work, however, she finished another. It was Successful Women, Angry Men: Backlash in the Two-Career Marriage, a nonfic-tional account of the conflicting expectations between working women and their partners. Campbell drew from her own experiences as well as those of dozens of other two-career couples in order to penetrate the subject. The author told the Philadelphia Inquirer that she made many striking discoveries during her research for the book. A lot of women are stunned by what they regard as the price of success, she said. Men understand hard work, the politics of business, the reasons for having a drink with the boss, the reality of moving when the company says to move. Women are stunned to find out how hard it is to be successful--the hours required, the adjustments. A lot of women are turned off and burned out. I would ask [women] to consider the significance of the amorphous thing called success. I would ask them to define success, to be clear on how much success they want, how badly they want it, what it would take for them to get it.

Tragic Inspiration

Campbell was only five years old when a young teenager named Emmett Till was discovered in Mississippis Tallahatchie River, the victim of a brutal murder. People of color all over America followed the Till story and the subsequent trial of three white men, who were all acquitted by a white jury. Washington Post contributor Mae Ghalwash observed that as Campbell grew up in Philadelphia, the youth [Till] drifted in and out of her own conversations. Her mother, aunts, and uncles talked about the case. Campbell told the Boston Globe that Till was a very real ghostlike presence in my life and in the lives of a lot of blacks. He catapulted us into civil rights. He died, he was murdered, in August (1955), and Rosa Parks refused to move on the bus in Birmingham the next month, in September. Emmett Till wasnt only murdered but brutally disfigured. It was worse than a lynching. Lynchings were anonymous. But this was personal. This trial got into the newspapers. The trial was ugly.

That tragic episode inspired Campbell to write her first novel, Your Blues Aint Like Mine. Based only loosely on the Till case, Campbells novel tells the story of Armstrong Todd, a fifteen-year-old Chicago native who loses his life during a summer visit to rural Mississippi. The tale not only explores Todds fate after he mutters a few words of French in the presence of a white woman, but it also charts the fortunes of his fictitious murderers in the decades following the incident. Ghalwash wrote: In a span of about three decades, Blues explores a tangle of racial issues. Campbell probes deep into the psychological and sociological pressures of the segregated South that lead to racial prejudice and ultimately to violence. The book traces the possible repercussions of aggressive acts and culminates in the emergence of what Campbell calls the new enemy of African Americans today-gang wars. The reviewer added: What happened to the killers of Armstrong Todd is not unlike the fate of the accused murderers of Emmett Till. Although they are acquitted by an all-white jury, their lives crumble into poverty, fear and miserable marriages. Thus Campbells message: If society withholds justice, life doesnt.

Your Blues Aint Like Mine was first published in 1992, and within months Campbell was being hailed as an important new voice in African American letters. Newsday essayist Francine Prose noted that the book spans the turbulent decades and upheavals of our countrys recent history, from the passionate commitment of the civil rights movement to the divisiveness and confusion surrounding the Vietnam War to the contemporary inner-cityscape. We finish Campbells novel eager to see what she will write next, and even more eager to believe in her vision of recovery and repair. Emerge magazine reviewer Karen Taylor concluded that Campbells first novel ranks with such classic works as Ralph Ellisons Invisible Man, Toni Morrisons The Bluest Eye, and Alice Walkers Meridian.

Campbell published her second novel, Brothers and Sisters, in 1994. This novel was set in Los Angeles following the riots that occurred after the Rodney King verdict. The plot of Brothers and Sisters revolves around two women, one African American and one white. Despite the fact that they have greatly differing opinions regarding issues such as affirmative action, white privilege, and the criminal justice system, the two women become friends. The novel focuses on the intricacies of the interactions between the two women. Brothers and Sisters appeared on the New York Times best-seller list and was widely hailed by critics. Christopher John Farley praised the novel in Time: Writing with wit and grace, Campbell shows how all our stories-white, black, female-ultimately intertwine. Ms. reviewer Retha Powers commended Campbell for her astute observations about the subtleties of race and race relations in the U.S. In the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, Campbell explained the reason why she wrote Brothers and Sisters: Weve got to start getting past stereotypes, and anger, and fear, if were going to have any semblance of racial harmony in this country. We have to make color our joy, not our burden.

In 1998, Campbell published a new novel entitled Singing in the Comeback Choir. The plot of the novel focuses on a woman who sacrifices a career as a singer to raise her granddaughter, who grows up to become a successful businesswoman. The grandmother eventually gets another chance to resurrect her singing career. Singing in the Comeback Choir is an uplifting tale that conveys the message that it is never too late to pursue ones dreams. As Campbell told Jet, the novel illustrates that with support and with love and commitment, a second chance is possible, if you are willing to work at it.Anybody can have a second chance.

Campbell lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Ellis Gordon, Jr., and is the mother of two children. She has also served as a commentator for National Public Radios Morning Edition. Her literary work has also appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Ebony, Essence, Ms., Black Enterprise, and other periodicals.

Selected writings

Successful Women, Angry Men: Backlash in the Two-Career Marriage, out of print.

Sweet Summer: Growing Up With and Without My Dad (memoir), Ballantine, 1990.

Your Blues Aint Like Mine (novel), Putnam, 1992.

(Contributor) Wild Women Dont Wear Blue: Black Women Writers on Love, Men and Sex, edited by Marita Golden, Doubleday, 1993.

Brothers and Sisters, (novel), Putnam, 1994.

Singing in the Comeback Choir, (novel), Putnam, 1998.

Sources

Boston Globe, October 26, 1992, p. 32.

Chicago Tribune, October 25, 1992, p. 5; February 19, 1993, p. 1.

Emerge, February 1993, p. 69.

Jet, March 30, 1998, p. 39.

Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, November 2, 1994, p. 1102.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, September 6,1992, p.3.

Ms., September/October 1994, p. 78.

Newsday (Long Island, NY), August 20, 1992, p. 62; September 27, 1992, p. 34.

Philadelphia Inquirer, April 30,1987;June 11,1989, p. F-4; August 1,1989, p. E-1; December 27,1992, p. F-3.

San Francisco Chronicle, September 20, 1992, p. 7.

Time, October 17, 1994, p. 81.

Washington Post, October 10, 1992, p. D-1, D-10.

Anne Janette Johnson and David G. Oblender

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"Campbell, Bebe Moore 1950–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved August 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/campbell-bebe-moore-1950-0