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.