Bebe Moore Campbell Biography

Author Profile

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

As a child, Bebe Moore Campbell spent her school years in Philadelphia with her mother and her summers in North Carolina with her father. She writes of this divided life in Sweet Summer: Growing Up with and Without My Dad, drawing sharp contrasts between the two worlds. She credits both parents with shaping her into a writer.

Her mother, an avid storyteller, designated Sundays as church day and library day. Having learned the value of stories and writing, Campbell composed stories for her father, cliffhangers designed to elicit his immediate response. By the third grade, she knew that she wanted to be a writer; however, not until her mother gave her a book written by an African American did she feel affirmed in that ambition. The knowledge that African Americans wrote books gave her the permission she needed to pursue her dream.

Her first novel, Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine, was inspired by the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, an African American teenager from Chicago who was killed in Mississippi after speaking to a white woman. Till’s death was widely discussed in the African American community, and Campbell grew up feeling that she had known him. Since his murderers were never brought to justice, she sought in Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine to create a fictional world in which the justice that society withheld exists. The novel showcases her ability to portray many diverse characters.

Her second novel, Brothers and Sisters, is set around another event affecting the African American community. Rodney King, an African American motorist, was beaten by police officers in Los Angeles in 1992. The beating was captured on videotape, but the policemen were found not guilty in their first trial, resulting in riots. Delving into the aftermath of this event, Brothers and Sisters explores the way in which race affects the relationship between an African American woman and a white woman.

Although Campbell’s works reflect her experiences as a woman, she felt that she was oppressed more for her color than for her gender. Her writings are primarily shaped by her identity as an African American, but her diverse characters reveal more of the commonalities that exist between people than the differences.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bebe Moore Campbell is a much-admired African American writer. When she was ten months old her father, George Linwood Peter Moore, became a paraplegic as the result of an automobile accident. Shortly thereafter, her parents were divorced. As she explains in her autobiographical book Sweet Summer: Growing Up with and Without My Dad, Campbell then lived in two very different worlds. The school year was spent in Philadelphia in a household dominated by three women—her mother, her grandmother, and her aunt—where she was exposed to culture and taught moral values, good manners, and standard grammar. During the summer Campbell stayed with her father and his mother in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, where life was easy-going, filled with the cigar smoke and the laughter of a horde of males, who provided another kind of nurture for George’s little girl. Thus, though a child of divorce, Campbell grew up feeling that she was a person of great value.

Campbell went to the University of Pittsburgh, majoring in elementary education. After graduating summa cum laude, she taught for five years, first in Atlanta, then in Washington. Marrying a childhood sweetheart, she had a child, Maia. Three years later, the marriage ended in divorce.

Having left teaching to care for her baby, Campbell decided to make her living as a freelance writer, and soon her articles and her short stories were appearing in national magazines. Many of them concerned family relationships, a subject which had always interested her but which took on new meaning when she had to deal with the sudden death of her father in 1977, with the breakup of her marriage, and with Maia’s reactions to the divorce.

In 1983 Campbell moved to Los Angeles, and thereafter her life took a turn for the better. She met and married Ellis Gordon, Jr., a banker, and acquired a stepson, Ellis Gordon III. In 1986 Campbell’s first book appeared, Successful Women, Angry Men: Backlash in the Two-Career Marriage, which had been expanded from one of her articles. Her second book, Sweet Summer: Growing Up with and Without My Dad, also developed out of an article, in this case one she had published seven years before as a Father’s Day feature in The Washington Post. Campbell had a specific purpose in writing her memoir. By using her own experience as an...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Although she did not grow up in a traditional two-parent family, Bebe Moore Campbell—born Elizabeth Bebe Moore—never felt an absence of love and understanding from either her mother or father. Her school months in Philadelphia were constrained because of the close supervision of her mother, grandmother, and aunt, who oversaw her every move. They instructed her in proper speech, manners, and behavior. Summers with her father and his mother in North Carolina were much more carefree. There she felt total love and acceptance.

When Campbell was in the third grade, a teacher recognized her potential and placed her in a special creative writing class. She began sending letters to her father that were intended to intrigue him—installments of stories—all of them calling for a response. She wanted to keep his interest alive all year long. Her idealization of her father ended abruptly when she was fourteen, when she learned that his speeding had caused the car crash that left him wheelchair-bound for life and that he was responsible for another accident in which a young boy had been killed. Over time, her initial anger abated, but the relationship suffered.

Campbell earned a B.S. degree in elementary education at the University of Pittsburgh and later taught elementary school for ten years in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C. An early marriage ended in divorce, and Campbell, as her mother had, assumed the responsibilities of a single...

(The entire section is 526 words.)