Between the Lines: Bonnie Jo Campbell
The women Bonnie Jo Campbell writes about face abuse in many ugly forms, yet they emerge empowered. The award-winning writer launches her new story collection Mothers, Tell Your Daughters (Norton) in October. It continues Campbell's exploration of the relationships between women.
“We put this collection together from stories I’ve written over the years,” Campbell says. “My editor and I saw a theme about motherhood and daughter-hood, and also sisterhood and aunt-hood, and what it means to be a grandmother. But maybe the most potent of the stories address the issues and difficulties between mothers and daughters.”
Campbell’s women are tough. They love and hate their men; they endure abuse but know also how to dish it out while taking their power back. They smoke. They drink. They castrate pigs and drown kittens. They butcher livestock and skin squirrels and shoot guns and hit bulls-eyes. But even while she's taking on serious themes in her work, Campbell maintains a sometimes wry and dark sense of humor, finding the joke in humanity.
Her stories may skirt the edges of the bizarre and be filled with the grit of everyday life. But Campbell's own life story is rich fodder for her fiction. Campbell grew up on a small farm in southwest Michigan with her mother and four siblings. It was then that she learned how to care for farm animals and developed a love for donkeys. She still has two on her own property today in Kalamazoo. Campbell hitchhiked across the United States and Canada —something she does not recommend to others—and scaled the Swiss Alps on her bicycle. She ran away with the circus and sold snow cones. Campbell also founded Goulash Tours, Inc., which lead conducted adventure tours in Russia, the Baltic countries, Romania and Bulgaria.
Referring to her penchant for chasing down adventures, Campbell says, “I don’t admit this often, but I’m kind of a scaredy cat. I’m a worrier. But somehow, even as a youth, when I was scared of doing things, that somehow worked its opposite. It made me feel like I had to address those fears and do as much as I possibly could. I grew up without so many resources, so I decided I was going to find a way to travel and have adventures no matter what.”
That paid off. Campbell’s books have a fast-growing audience and have received the highest critical acclaim. Her most recent work is the bestselling novel Once Upon a River. She is a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award for her story collection American Salvage, and she's a Guggenheim Fellow. Campbell is also author of the novel Q Road and the story collection Women & Other Animals, and has won the AWP short fiction award.
Campbell will launch Mothers, Tell Your Daughters with a reading and book-signing at Bookbug in Kalamazoo on Saturday, October 3, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.. That will be followed by a celebration at Old Dog Tavern in Kalamazoo at 2 p.m.
Listen to WMUK's Between the Lines every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m.