Bunkley, Anita Richmond 19(?)(?)–
Anita Richmond Bunkley 19(?)(?) –
Anita Richmond Bunkley is the author of a number of compelling works of fiction aimed at African-American readers. Most of Bunkley’s books are romance novels that delve into black history of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She has also written a contemporary industrial-espionage thriller and a self-help guide.
An Ohio native, Bunkley grew up in Columbus, the daughter of a French teacher and an engineer. She studied romance languages at Mount Union College and, after marrying, settled in North Carolina, began a family, and worked as a middle-school language teacher. She relocated to the Houston, Texas, area after a divorce, and struggled there to raise her two daughters by working two jobs. An avid reader, Bunkley was dismayed by the lack of minority representation in the novels she preferred. “I was appalled at the lack of popular fiction about Black women and strong male characters,” she told Essence writer Paula L. Woods. “I remember thinking at one point, if I can’t find the kind of books I want to read, then maybe I’ll have to write them myself.”
One night at a party, Bunkley met a well-known filmmaker and confessed her desire to someday write a novel. The director told her, as she recalled in an interview with Barbara Karkabi of the Houston Chronicle, that she should simply ‘“call yourself a writer. How else are you ever going to become one?’” Joining a writer’s group, Bunkley began working on a historical romance based on a tale she had once heard about the woman who was the inspiration for the song “Yellow Rose of Texas.” It took her two years to write Emily, the Yellow Rose about the mixed-race character. For her trouble she amassed a collection of 32 rejection slips. Taking a course in self-publishing, Bunkley saved her money, had the book printed herself, and saw it slowly gain a steady readership. She told Karkabi that the experience was “one of the hardest things I have ever done. I had to get in the car and drive around with the book to all the bookstores. I had to fly places and talk to people. I spent a lot of money, but it was worth it.”
At a Glance…
Born in Columbus, OH; first marriage ended in divorce; married Crawford Bunkley (a businessman), c. 1997; children: (first marriage) two daughters. Education: Earned degree from Mount Union College.
Career: Author and public speaker. Formerly a middle-school a language teacher, adult-education teacher; also director of nonprofit organizations.
Awards: Excellence in Achievement Award, United Negro College Fund; Wild Embers was cited by Publishers Weekly as one of the ten best romances of 1995.
Address: Office —c/o Kensington Books, 850 3rd. Ave., New York, NY 10022.
Soon Bunkley began working on her next book. She submitted a chapter to a writing contest sponsored by the University of Texas. It took first prize, and she began working with a literary agent; in 1992 she landed a six-figure deal for two books with Penguin USA. Bunkley had to rewrite this second novel several times—finishing six drafts in all—but when it was published she was finally able to quit her job to devote herself to writing full-time. Black Gold appeared in 1994, and won positive reviews. The story centers on Leela Brannon Alexander, who is orphaned as a child in the early twentieth century. As a young woman, she marries successful Texas melon-farmer T. J. Wilder. It is an unhappy union, however, and Leela’s life on the farm, Rioluces, is complicated further when her husband’s malevolent half-brother tries to seduce her. The brother returns after Leela is left a widow and causes further problems when oil is discovered on their land. A Publishers Weekly review of Black Gold found that its “narrative offers a hearty depiction of the struggle of black landowners to survive difficult economic conditions.”
Bunkley moved her next story up a few decades to the World War II era. Wild Embers, published in 1995, recounts the life story of Ohio nurse Janelle Roy. Falsely accused of the death of a patient, she goes to trial and is ably defended by an NAACP lawyer, Dalton Graham. When their romance suddenly falls apart, Janelle decides to enlist in the U.S. Army as a nurse. She trains at the famed black-aviator flight school in Tuskegee, Alabama, and finds love again. Again, her romance is thwarted, this time by war. “Bunkley is best depicting her characters’ refreshing ambivalence about interracial relationships and civil rights protests,” a contributor to Publishers Weekly opined, while Booklist’s Lillian Lewis called it “a story about the quicksilver nature of emotions, memories, and responses of a life evolving.”
Starlight Passage, which appeared the following year, was the first of Bunkley’s works to be set primarily in contemporary times. Kiana Sheridan, writing her dissertation on reparations for slavery, discovers a fascinating trove of information about an ancestor, Soddy Russell, a once-forgotten folk artist whose work is suddenly experiencing a revival. Soddy was a glass blower who escaped slavery via the Underground Railroad and later worked as a janitor in a glass factory in Pennsylvania, where he crafted stunning works in his spare hours. Kiana embarks on a tour of Soddy’s life with an Underground Railroad tour guide, Rex Tandy, and begins to suspect that the suspicious Soddy pieces that have recently come on the art market are part of a scheme by her villainous stepsister. Alongside this plot Bunkley crafts a secondary one about two of her ancestors, a slave couple named Adi and Price. “Bunk-ley’s lively characters, as well as her research elevate this tale above a standard romantic melodrama but—there’s plenty of desire and danger here, too,” asserted a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
Bunkley set part of Starlight Passage, in eastern Tennessee, which features a rocky terrain not ideally suited for farming or plantation life. So she was forced to research the area further, and finally settled on a small arable valley in which she could set some of her story. “I try to make the books really accurate, especially in those little things, the details,” she explained to Austin American-Statesman journalist Norma Martin. “Because somebody knows and you kind of lose your credibility if it’s not right. You can’t fake that stuff.”
Bunkley tackled an entirely new research project for her fourth novel, Balancing Act. The 1997 book was her first out of the historical-romance genre; it was an industrial-espionage tale that featured an endearing heroine—working mother Elise Jeffries, challenged by the demands of her job as a corporate spokesperson for a Houston security company. Her duties intensify after a warehouse fire at her company’s chemical storage unit in a historic black neighborhood in the city. Elise grew up there and, speaking with her childhood friends, she begins to suspect there is a reason that many other residents are suffering from cancer. Library Journal critic V. Louise Saylor liked the book’s “portrait of a competent career woman balancing multiple demands and expectations,” and Publishers Weekly gave Bunkley another positive review, stating that her “sharp and absorbing page-turner neatly takes on the tangled issue of corporate environmental abuse and its impact on a small black community.”
Bunkley’s sixth book, Mirrored Life, was published in 2002. The plot centerd on the turnaround that 20-year-old Sara Jane Talbot forges for herself after a stint in jail as a teenager. Earning her cosmetology license and changing her name to Serena St. James when she is released, she is thrilled with her new job in a posh Dallas salon. Her talents attract the attention of an R&B diva, who hires her as a personal stylist and installs Sara/Serena inside a lavish cottage on her estate. A new romance with one of her boss’s bodyguards is threatened, as is the safety of her new identity, when someone from her past begins to cause trouble. “So well crafted are Bunkley’s characters with their guilt, secrets, and wary hearts, that their appeal is universal,” noted Booklist’s Shelley Mosley in a review. A Publishers Weekly critique faulted the plot and what it felt was a too-tidy conclusion, but conceded that “Sara Jane’s spunky brand of tenacity is charming and Bunkley’s clean prose keeps the story moving along at a good clip.”
Bunkley is also the author of a motivational book, Steppin’ Out with Attitude: Sister, Sell Your Dream!, which was partly inspired by all the women who introduced themselves to her at book signings and wondered how she got her start. Steppin’ Out explained what Bunkley calls the three “Ds” she feels are necessary for success: desire, discipline, and drive. She also chronicles the story of several other women who overcame hardship to achieve professional success. “I wanted to get the stories of women who had a dream, and their attitudes,” Bunkley told Karkabi in the Houston Chronicle. “I wanted to know what they thought was important to them, how they started out, what they did when they ran into problems.”
Bunkley herself writes six hours a day, six days a week, and sometimes bemoans the fact that historical romance writers are not always taken seriously. “I hope there’ll come a time when books that have everything to do with positive feelings of love in our community will be embraced and celebrated by the public,” she told Essence ’s Woods. She has also learned that her own success is more than a full-time job, and always carries copies of her books with her. “I’ve learned that I better not show my face in the beauty shop or at the manicurist without some books in my trunk,” she joked in the interview with Martin in the Austin American-Statesman.
Emily, the Yellow Rose, Rinard Publishing (Houston, TX), 1989.
Black Gold, Dutton, 1994.
Wild Embers, Dutton, 1995.
Starlight Passage, Dutton, 1996.
Balancing Act, Dutton, 1997.
Steppin’ Out With Attitude: Sister, Sell Your Dream!, HarperCollins, 1998.
Mirrored Life, Kensington/Dafina, 2002.
Austin American-Statesman, June 25, 1996, p. E1.
Booklist, February 15, 1995, p. 1059; July, 1997, p. 1794; September 15, 1998, p. 178; October 15, 2002, p. 393.
Ebony, December 1998, p. 22.
Essence, July, 1997, p. 75.
Houston Chronicle, November 9, 1998, p.1.
Library Journal, April 15, 1997, p. 116
Publishers Weekly, December 13, 1993, p. 64; December 19, 1994, p. 46; April 8, 1996, p. 56; June 9, 1997, p. 37; August 10, 1998, p. 375; June 7, 1999, p. 80; October 14, 2002, p. 65.
“Anita Richmond Bunkley,” Contemporary Authors On line, http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC (February 23, 2003).
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