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Chambers, Veronica 1970(?)–

Chambers, Veronica 1970(?)–

PERSONAL:

Born c. 1970, in Brooklyn, NY; daughter of Cecilia Chambers (a secretary); married Jason Clampet, 2002. Education: Simon's Rock College, B.A.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Philadelphia, PA. Agent—Sandra Dijkstra, Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, 1155 Carmino del Mar, Ste. 515, Del Mar, CA 92014. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Memoirist, journalist, editor, novelist, and photographer. Has been a contributing editor for Glamour magazine, a senior editor at Premiere and New York Times magazines, and an executive editor of Savoy magazine. Worked as a culture writer for Newsweek for three years and has also worked at Sassy, Seventeen, Essence, Life, and MTV. Writer for UPN television series Girlfriends. Photographs exhibited in a group show in Los Angeles, CA, spring, 1990. Founder of a campus lecture series, editor of the Simon's Rock College (Great Barrington, MA) literary magazine, and cofounder, with husband Jason Clampet, of the Simon's Rock College Dorothy West Scholarship.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Selected as one of the year's top ten college women, Glamour magazine, 1990; received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts; received the Hodder Fellowship for Emerging Artists at Princeton University.

WRITINGS:

(With John Singleton and Maya Angelou) Poetic Justice: Filmmaking South Central Style, foreword by Spike Lee, Delta (New York, NY), 1993.

Mama's Girl (memoir), Riverhead Books/Putnam (New York, NY), 1996.

Having It All? Black Women and Success, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2003.

When Did You Stop Loving Me? (novel), Doubleday (New York, NY), 2004.

Miss Black America, Broadway Books (New York, NY), 2005.

The Joy of Doing Things Badly: A Girl's Guide to Love, Life, and Foolish Bravery, Broadway Books (New York, NY), 2006.

Kickboxing Geishas: How Modern Japanese Women Are Changing Their Nation, Free Press (New York, NY), 2007.

Contributor of articles to magazines, including Seventeen, Los Angeles Times Book Review, Kirkus Reviews, Us, Glamour, Vogue, O, New York Times magazine, and Essence. Also contributor to anthologies, including The Bitch in the House: Twenty-six Women Tell the Truth about Sex, Solitude, Work, Motherhood, and Marriage, edited by Cathi Hanauer, Morrow (New York, NY), 2002; Growing Up Ethnic in America: Contemporary Fiction about Learning to Be American, edited by Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Jennifer Gillan, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1999; Becoming American: Personal Essays by First Generation Immigrant Women, edited and introduced by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2000; Black Hair: Art, Style, and Culture, edited by Ima Ebong, Universe (New York, NY), 2001; and Body.

CHILDREN'S BOOKS

The Harlem Renaissance, Chelsea House Publishers (Broomall, PA), 1997.

Marisol and Magdalena: The Sound of Our Sisterhood, Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Books for Children (New York, NY), 1998.

Amistad Rising: A Story of Freedom, illustrated by Paul Lee, Harcourt Brace (San Diego, CA), 1998.

Quinceañera Means Sweet Fifteen, Hyperion Books for Children (New York, NY), 2001.

Double Dutch: A Celebration of Jump Rope, Rhyme, and Sisterhood, Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Books for Children (New York, NY), 2002.

Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa, illustrated by Julie Maren, Dial (New York, NY), 2005.

SIDELIGHTS:

Veronica Chambers is one of the more striking youthful success stories of the 1990s. Growing up in Brooklyn in the 1970s, she experienced economic difficulties as her mother, a secretary who had emigrated from Panama, tried to raise Chambers and her brother. Chambers's parents were divorced, and her father was not supportive of his children. During one period when Chambers, after fighting with her mother, fled to her father's apartment, she suffered not only from her father's indifference but also from an abusive stepmother. At the age of sixteen, however, Chambers entered a new life when she enrolled in Simon's Rock College, in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts, on a scholarship. Far more than just another successful undergraduate, she also edited the campus literary magazine and established a lecture series on campus.

In her 1996 memoir, Mama's Girl, Chambers recounts her personal history and more. Early in her life, her father had quit his job to attempt a career as a ventriloquist, in which he apparently did not prosper. Her mother moved the family to the south-central area of Los Angeles, then back to Brooklyn after Chambers's father left. Chambers's brother fell into a life of street crime and was imprisoned. The focus of the book, however, is on the mother-daughter relationship, a complicated one because the author's mother had aspired to become a lawyer but had not had the opportunity. The book ended on a warm note: Chambers's success has enabled her to support her mother not only emotionally but financially.

The book was well received. A Kirkus Reviews critic called it "an absorbing, often perturbing chronicle … valuable … as a commentary on growing up African American and on … those who leave poverty behind and move into the middle class." A Publishers Weekly contributor stated that the book is "an impressive debut" and a "remarkable story—told with admirable if sometimes frustrating control," and Library Journal reviewer Jeris Cassel termed Mama's Girl "an honest, open, and ultimately warm memoir."

In 1998, Chambers tried her hand at writing fictional children's books. In Marisol and Magdalena: The Sound of Our Sisterhood, Chambers introduces thirteen-year-old best friends Marisol and Magdalena, two Brooklyn natives of Panamanian ancestry. Chambers, who is also a Brooklyn native of Panamanian descent, explores loss of ancestral identity through these characters who do not speak Spanish like their relatives and struggle to find their place within both society and history. Marisol has an especially difficult time, being a Latinegra, or a heritage blend of black and Latina. Marisol is sent to Panama to live with her grandmother for a year, where she begins to connect with the culture and people. She also searches for her father, Lucho, whom she has never seen, and acquires her first boyfriend, Ruben, who teaches her Spanish. Marisol and Magdalena's friendship is tested, though, as they must endure being separated from each other.

Marisol and Magdalena return in Quinceañera Means Sweet Fifteen. The book highlights the quinceañera parties that mark the girls' coming of age at fifteen and also addresses some of the hardships of such an age. Back in the United States, Marisol must deal with disappointment when her mother informs her that she cannot afford to give her an elaborate and expensive birthday party. She is further disenchanted when she realizes the changes that have taken place during the time she was in Panama. Magdalena has made two new affluent, manipulative, and ne'er-do-well girlfriends who make fun of Marisol and demand all of Magdalena's time. Magdalena's loneliness and sense of abandonment upon Marisol's journey to Panama is subdued by her desire to be accepted by the promise of wealthy and "powerful" friends, and Magdalena begins to question Marisol's worth. She learns her lesson at a price, however. "This sense of justice is achieved without affectation," wrote Roger Leslie in Booklist. Leslie described Marisol as a "decent person with a kind heart" and Magdalena as a "believable, multifaceted supporting character." School Library Journal contributor Trish Anderson commented, "Marisol's thoughts and worries … flow realistically." Anderson also noted that "Spanish phrases add flavor to the dialogue."

Children's writing having proven itself a successful venture, Chambers next compiled a social history of the jump rope game double Dutch in her children's book Double Dutch: A Celebration of Jump Rope, Rhyme, and Sisterhood. In this work, Chambers traces the origins of double Dutch back to ancient civilizations in Egypt, China, and Phoenicia, relating developments of the game from a recess activity to a competitive team sport. She highlights the accomplishments of enthusiast double-Dutchers Tahira Reed, who invented an automatic rope-turning machine to aid the game, and Miho, who started the first Japanese double-Dutch team. Double Dutch is interspersed with pictures and rhymes, making it "a vibrant collage," according to School Library Journal contributor Kathleen Whalen, who also commended the book for being "as snappy and fresh as its subject." A Black Issues Book Review contributor also commented on the book's pictures: "Color and black-and-white photographs … make this high-energy book not only fun to read, but also fun to look at."

Chambers veered away from children's writing with Having It All? Black Women and Success. In this work, she examines some of the historical and social issues facing the upwardly mobile, modern, middle- to upper-class African American woman, a category to which Chambers belongs. Chambers compiles interviews with fifty exceptional black women and supplements them with statistical information on the rise of the black woman in America. By doing this, Chambers gains insight into black women's thoughts about their respective societal positions, their struggles to achieve, their successes, and the areas of their lives still lacking.

Chambers finds that black women are often stifled by stereotypes of black culture, such being perceived as single mothers on welfare or as living in neighborhoods of crack addicts. Chambers's interviewees do not live in the ghetto, though many of them started there. For the most part, they travel, leisure shop, attend artistic and cultural events, dine out frequently, and have degrees and moderately dispensable incomes. They are lawyers, business owners, television producers, and business executives. Some are financially secure stay-at-home mothers. These women represent a class all their own, a class that has overcome both racial and gender-based oppressions to find themselves at the top of their career ladders. However, their societal reallocation has not been smooth. They struggle to find counterparts in their careers, and even more so in their personal lives, which may be the aspect of Having It All? that causes the question mark of its title to resound most appropriately. Many of these women who "have it all" find themselves without a partner with whom they can share their successes. Some of the women interviewed for Having It All? also expressed a feeling of alienation within their own families, as many find themselves the first in their families to graduate from high school and college, secure a sizeable salary, and acquire properties. To add to their distress, as a whole, the black community does not identify with their problems and therefore often rejects or dismisses them.

Having It All? struck various chords with critics. Some reviewers praised the author for her insights, while others looked for deeper, more meaningful answers to the problems of these women. In a review for Library Journal, contributor Douglas C. Lord praised the book as "extremely well written and at times revelatory," stating that "this narrative isn't out to draw hard conclusions. Instead, it's a cogent, eye-opening exploration." Conversely, Debra J. Dickerson wrote in a Washington Monthly review that the stories in the book are "somewhat feel-goody and superficial, like a public service announcement for Black History Month." Dickerson did admit, however, that "[the interviewees'] anecdotes live and breathe our complicated racial and gender realities as no pile of statistics ever could." Susan Salter Reynolds concluded in the Los Angeles Times that this is "an uplifting book, chock-full of role models. Real ones. Like Chambers herself."

In 2004, Chambers entered the adult fiction arena with When Did You Stop Loving Me?, the story of a young girl abandoned by her mother. A sixth grader, Angela Davis Brown returns from school one day and realizes that her mother is gone, an absence her father attempts to hide. Confused by her mother's actions and her lack of a good-bye, Angela keeps an unusual memento with her, an x-ray of her mother's teeth, "to remind myself of the pain: of how she bit me and the way she left me to live, part of me breathing, part of me dead." Unfortunately for the young girl, her father dreams of success as a magician but never seems to find his way, compounding Angela's unstable home life. Yet he does, though his unorthodox behavior, show his daughter that she can rise above her poor, inner-city surroundings, that life hold no limits for her. Reviewing When Did You Stop Loving Me? in Kirkus Reviews, a contributor thought the author "gives us a good glimpse of the inner life of a talented girl making her way in the world, but she shows us too little of the world itself to make us feel the true drama of the rise." However, because "very little actually ‘happens’ to Angela," Newsweek contributor Sean Smith thought that "all that frustration and impatience, that need to comprehend why and how a mother could leave her child, seeps through every page." Of all the elements in the book, Booklist reviewer Hazel Rochman remarked most favorably on "the unsentimental picture of the loving, messed-up, single-parent dad," predicting that "teens will want [When Did You Stop Loving Me?] for the heartfelt coming-of-age story."

Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa, illustrated by Julie Maren, is a children's book about the life of the Cuban singer, tracking her from her earliest days as a child in Havana all the way up to the explosion of her career onto the international stage, leaving her with the title of the Queen of Salsa. Celia got her start singing to her siblings, focusing primarily on lullabies. But by the time she was in high school, both her vocal talents and her tastes had matured, and she started singing in local clubs, having moved on to songs with a strong Afro-Cuban beat. She spent a decade singing professionally in Cuba, having been given a break by a major band, but in 1960 she left the country. In Hollywood, Celia's career continued to blossom, and she became one of the most influential proponents of salsa music in the United States. A contributor for Kirkus Reviews found the book "an inspired and inspiring introduction to a Latina idol."

The Joy of Doing Things Badly: A Girl's Guide to Love, Life, and Foolish Bravery is a collection of essays in which Chambers illustrates all the reasons why it is important to simply move forward and take risks without fear of looking bad or making a mistake, because life is short and you never know what it might bring. She recounts various experiences, ranging from the light and frothy, such as the reasons behind her enrollment in an African dance class, to the more serious, including the story of her cancer scare. Emily Cook, in a review for Booklist, remarked that, "bursting with strong-willed, fiery spirit, Chambers is at the top of her game."

Kickboxing Geishas: How Modern Japanese Women Are Changing Their Nation addresses the enormous cultural changes in Japan since the collapse of the economy. Traditional gender roles, so important to Japanese culture for many centuries, have begun to change far more radically than ever before. In the wake of the financial issues in the nation, men are no longer considered as all-powerful as they were previously, particularly as many have ceased to be completely financially stable. Contrasting the fates of the men in many ways, women have gained more power, both in the workplace and at home, with society beginning to acknowledge women's strengths and abilities. More and more, Japanese women are traveling, working, and handling the money. Particularly in the younger generations, this clash between the sexes has resulted in women finding it difficult to respect men, especially when they stubbornly cling to traditional roles and behaviors. This disparity in turn has a profound effect on women and their social interactions. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly remarked that "Chambers fluently places the courage and isolation of these women in a briefly sketched social and economic context."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Chambers, Veronica, Mama's Girl, Riverhead Books/Putnam (New York, NY), 1996.

Chambers, Veronica, When Did You Stop Loving Me?, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2004.

PERIODICALS

American Visions, December, 1999, review of Amistad Rising: A Story of Freedom, p. 37.

Black Issues Book Review, March-April, 2003, E. Assata Wright, review of Having It All? Black Women and Success, pp. 56-57, and review of Double Dutch: A Celebration of Jump Rope, Rhyme, and Sisterhood, p. 68; July-August, 2004, Denise Simon, "Strange Lives and Loves Left Behind," review of When Did You Stop Loving Me?, p. 44.

Booklist, May 1, 1996, Donna Seaman, review of Mama's Girl, p. 1486; October 1, 1998, Sally Estes, review of Marisol and Magdalena: The Sound of Our Sisterhood, p. 324; February 15, 1999, Hazel Rochman, review of Amistad Rising, p. 1068; March 15, 2001, Roger Leslie, review of Quinceañera Means Sweet Fifteen, p. 1391; February 15, 2002, review of Marisol and Magdalena, p. 1028; October 15, 2002, Jean Franklin, review of Double Dutch, p. 402; January 1, 2003, Vanessa Bush, review of Having It All?, pp. 818-819; April 15, 2004, Hazel Rochman, review of When Did You Stop Loving Me?, p. 1422; March 15, 2006, Emily Cook, review of The Joy of Doing Things Badly: A Girl's Guide to Love, Life, and Foolish Bravery, p. 12.

Book Report, May, 2001, review of Quinceañera Means Sweet Fifteen, p. 57.

Bulletin for the Center of Children's Books, January, 1999, review of Marisol and Magdalena, p. 162; May, 2001, review of Quinceañera Means Sweet Fifteen, p. 332.

Ebony, March, 2003, review of Having It All?, pp. 22-23.

Entertainment Weekly, August 16, 1996, Megan Harlan, review of Mama's Girl, p. 56.

Essence, November, 2002, review of Double Dutch; March, 2003, Harriet Cole and Veronica Chambers, "A Delicate Balance: Interview," p. 116; June, 2004, review of When Did You Stop Loving Me?, p. 136.

Good Housekeeping, January, 2003, Julia A. Savacool, "A New Generation Finds Sweet Success: After Years of Fighting the Stereotypes Pinned on African-American Women, Author Veronica Chambers Celebrates Her Sisters' New Freedom and Achievements," p. 85.

Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 1996, review of Mama's Girl, p. 656; February 1, 2001, review of Quinceañera Means Sweet Fifteen, p. 180; December 1, 2002, review of Having It All?, p. 1745; March 15, 2004, review of When Did You Stop Loving Me?, p. 237; May 15, 2005, review of Celia Cruz, Queen of Salsa, p. 585.

Library Journal, July, 1996, Jeris Cassel, review of Mama's Girl, p. 126; November 1, 2002, Ann Burns, review of Having It All?, p. 115; January, 2003, Douglas C. Lord, review of Having It All?, pp. 138-139.

Los Angeles Times, February 9, 2003, Susan Salter Reynolds, review of Having It All?, p. R-15.

Ms., July-August, 1996, Jill L. Petty, review of Mama's Girl, pp. 84-85.

Newsweek, July 12, 2004, Sean Smith, "The Lady Vanishes: In This Debut Novel, It's Not the Dad Who Leaves the Family," p. 64.

New York Times Book Review, March 14, 1999, review of Marisol and Magdalena, p. 30; March 30, 2003, Diane Scharper, review of Having It All?, p. 16.

People, July 1, 1996, Claire McHugh, review of Mama's Girl, pp. 29-30.

Publishers Weekly, May 6, 1996, review of Mama's Girl, p. 63; March 16, 1998, review of Amistad Rising, p. 64; February 5, 2001, review of Quinceañera Means Sweet Fifteen, p. 90; September 9, 2002, "Girl World," review of Double Dutch, p. 70; December 9, 2002, review of Having It All?, p. 75; November 20, 2006, review of Kickboxing Geishas: How Japanese Women Are Changing Their Nation, p. 55.

School Library Journal, July, 1996, Dottie Kraft, review of Mama's Girl, p. 109; April, 1998, Shirley Wilton, review of Amistad Rising, p. 97, Marilyn Heath, review of The Harlem Renaissance, p. 142; December, 1998, Sylvia V. Meisner, review of Marisol and Magdalena, p. 121; August, 1999, review of Marisol and Magdalena, p. 38; June, 2001, Trish Anderson, review of Quinceañera Means Sweet Fifteen, p. 144; December, 2002, Kathleen Whalen, review of Double Dutch, p. 157.

Social Education, May, 1999, review of Amistad Rising, p. 8.

Voice of Youth Advocates, October, 2001, review of Quinceañera Means Sweet Fifteen, p. 273.

Washington Monthly, April, 2003, Debra J. Dickerson, "Post-Ghetto Fabulous: Coming to Grips with Black Women's Success," pp. 50-51.

Women's Review of Books, October, 2003, E. Frances White, "The Price of Success," review of Having It All?, pp. 17-19.

ONLINE

Eye on Books,http://www.eyeonbooks.com/ (June 9, 2003), Bill Thompson, "Interview with Veronica Chambers."

Lordly & Dame Web site,http://www.lordly.com/ (January 26, 2004), "Veronica Chambers."

National Public Radio Web Site,http://www.npr.org/ (January 26, 2004), "Veronica Chambers, Rita Dove: Conversation between Writer and Poet."

Utne,http://www.utne.com/ (January 26, 2003), Veronica Chambers, "Dreadlocked: You See My Hair, but Do You See Me?"

Veronica Chambers Home Page,http://www.veronicachambers.com (January 27, 2003).

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