Thirty years ago, Bebe Moore Campbell’s first short story was published in ESSENCE. It was the beginning of an extraordinary relationship in which we witnessed the creative evolution of a contributor into an immensely popular novelist, essayist, commentator and playwright. She remained a treasured ESSENCE contributor, who wrote some of the magazine’s most memorable stories including “I Put My Child Molester in Prison”(January 2006). She died yesterday at her Los Angeles home from complications of brain cancer. The 56-year-old storyteller was diagnosed with a neurological condition of the brain in February.
Born in Philadelphia in 1950, Elizabeth Bebe Moore was a gifted child who connected with words early on. Growing up, she favored classics by the Bronte sisters, Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. As a young adult, author Toni Morrison would have a profound influence on Moore Campbell’s desire to write. While working as a school teacher in Atlanta, Moore Campbell took a writing workshop with writer Toni Cade Bambara, whose books Morrison edited for Random House. The workshop changed Moore Campbell’s life. After the publication of her first novel, “Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine ” in 1992 (following the publication of the non-fiction title “Successful Women, Angry Men: Backlash in the Two-Career Marriage” in 1986 and “Sweet Summer: Growing Up With and Without My Dad“, a 1989 memoir), Moore Campbell emerged as a talented writer in her own right, who ushered in a wave of finely crafted commercial fiction talents, such as Diane McKinney-Whetstone and Tina McElory Ansa. She followed “Blues” with the successive New York Times Best-Sellers “Brothers and Sisters “(1994); “Singing in the Comeback Choir ” (1998); “What You Owe Me “(2001) and “72 Hour Hold ” (2005), a riveting story of a mother trying to save a daughter from the brink of mental illness. Moore Campbell became a staunch mental illness advocate and wrote a play and the children’s book, “Sometimes My Momma Gets Angry” (2003), in which that subject was a major theme.
Moore Campbell will be remembered as a perfectionist who wasn’t satisfied until the words and emotions on the page were just right. Moore Campbell joins the pantheon of great American writers whose work explored important themes of race and class in American letters, but did so with a majestic touch.
“She had a phenomenal ability to connect with African-American readers and all readers,” says Phyllis Grann, who published Moore’s first novel and edited many of her novels, including “72 Hour Hold“. “After reading her work, you’ll understand the truth. She gave readers honest emotions in her work.”
Moore Campbell is survived by her husband, Ellis Gordon, Jr.; her mother, Doris Moore; Maia Campbell, her daughter from her first marriage to Tiko Campbell; stepson, Ellis Gordon III and two grandchildren.
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