Successful woman doesn't mince words No ducking: Pratt's Black History Month speaker, author Bebe Moore Campbell, dives right into the hot topics.

February 12, 1996|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,SUN STAFF

Author and social commentator Bebe Moore Campbell refuses to dodge the thorny issues.

She tackles raw emotions fanned by the Rodney King affair. She takes on the subject of uneasy race relations among blacks, whites, Asians and Hispanics.

She dives headlong into the complicated love attractions of black men and black women, black men and white women. She shines the spotlight on friendships between black women and white women. She puts the hot-button topic of affirmative action on the table for discussion.

No wonder the Enoch Pratt Free Library snagged Ms. Campbell as this year's Black History Month breakfast speaker.

"Race, redemption and healing that's my thing," Ms. Campbell says in a telephone interview from her home in Los Angeles. Touched by the raw emotions of events surrounding the Rodney King beating, the author wrote "Brothers and Sisters," (Putnam, 1994). It draws on what she witnessed and felt during that time.

"Having lived through the civil unrest here, I was very much moved by everything that happened," she says.

Her best-selling book -- and her reputation for telling it like it is -- made her an attractive choice for Carla Hayden, director of the library. Ms. Campbell's writing and social commentary "are notable," says Ms. Hayden. "We felt that she would have a lot that is valuable to share with our Baltimore audience."

Ms. Campbell has been a contributor on National Public Radio since 1992 and is the author of three other books.

Her name is now mentioned whenever anyone brings up successful African-American authors, including the mega-popular Terry McMillan. But success was a long time coming.

She was an avid reader who knew early on that she wanted a writing career. "My mother is a natural storyteller who would always take me to the library," says Ms. Campbell, a native of Philadelphia.

The creative writing class she took in the third grade sealed that desire.

"She was very bright, very outspoken," says Judy Lancaster, who taught Ms. Campbell in a Philadelphia junior high. "She was very involved in student activities even in the junior high school. And she was an excellent student."

A writing career, however, got pushed aside as such concerns as how to earn a living intervened. Ms. Campbell decided to go the practical route and went to the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education.

She taught elementary and middle school for five years but never surrendered her dream.

"I had an agent who spent eight years -- eight years! -- trying to sell my stories," she says. "She sold other people's work; she just didn't sell mine."

She had better luck working as a free-lance writer for magazines such as Essence, Parents and Glamour and the now-defunct Savvy.

An article for Savvy, "Successful Women, Angry Men," generated such response that Ms. Campbell decided to temporarily abandon her fiction-writing. "I could not sell fiction but I got such a response from that article, I thought I would concentrate on it," she says.

By this time, she was married, raising a daughter and still teaching. It took her two years to complete her first book.

"I would get up at 3 in the morning and write. Or sometimes I would write at midnight. Or I would write when my child napped," she says.

It wasn't a burden, she says. "I was so enthused about what I was doing at the time that I really didn't mind."

The outcome was the book "Successful Women, Angry Men: Backlash in the Two Career Marriage" (Random House, 1986). "I was ecstatic," she says, recalling that first book sale. "It was a long, long time coming."

This was in the late 1980s, she noted. "Even then, there were not that many black writers around. Not like now, where it seems we are experiencing a renaissance of sorts."

Ms. Campbell quit her teaching job to write. She followed with her second book, "Sweet Summer: Growing Up With and Without My Dad" (Putnam, 1989) and "Your Blues Ain't Like Mine" (Putnam, 1992).

She has already started a fifth book but remains mum on the subject. She writes about four hours a day now, but not at 3 a.m. "I am now a full-time writer."

Meet the author

What: Breakfast with Bebe Moore Campbell, sponsored by the Enoch Pratt Free Library. Ms. Campbell will read from her work and discuss her life as a writer.

When: 9 a.m. Saturday (Registration is at 8:30 a.m.)

Where: The Stouffer Renaissance Harborplace Hotel, 202 E. Pratt St.

Cost: $28 ($250 for a table of 10)

Tickets: Must be purchased in advance. The deadline for reservations is tomorrow

Call: (410) 396-5494

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