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Bebe Moore Campbell
Bebe Moore Campbell Bebe Moore Campbell


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 Ain''t 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 storyteller''s 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 he''s going to die or the white boy who kills because it is what his father wants him to do" 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" 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 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 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".

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" 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 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 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 " 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 US" 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 itAnybody 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 Radio''s "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.

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