I met Bebe Moore Campbell while she was on tour for her book 72 Hour Hold. I was hosting a morning show for a local New York City radio station and it would be one of the last interviews she would do.
I had no idea at the time how sick she was. Nor did I realize at the time that her book was inspired by the very real mental illness that her own daughter, actress Maia Campbell, was struggling through.
What impressed me that day were her grace and the steely passion in which she used her gift as a writer to bring light to a very real disease that far too many people refuse to acknowledge.
In our interview she talked about this eight-year “journey” with “a family member,” who she did not name, and how at first she was reluctant to even talk about it publicly. But as any great writer will do, she found a vehicle through her gift to deliver a larger message of pain, acceptance and endurance. And she did it beautifully in fiction.
Today would have been Bebe Moore Campbell’s 63rd birthday. While we celebrate those known folks during the month of February—the seemingly usual suspects—we must never forget those not-so-famous people whose works may not have sold millions of copies, but whose words have touched lives and whose spirit opened doors for others.
I first discovered Bebe Moore Campbell, the writer, quite late in her career when a friend recommended that I read her books. I picked up What You Owe Me, a novel about a friendship between a black woman and a newly-emigrated Jewish woman in the 1940s. They meet while working as hotel maids. But their lives took a very interesting twist as the Jewish woman rose from poverty and became a cosmetics mogul. There is betrayal and history and a deep exploration of race and friendship as we follow these two through several decades.
When I finished that book, I called my friend and told her how much I enjoyed the read.
“If you think that’s good, you should read Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine,” she said. “That one is even better!”
And it was.
I discovered BeBe Moore Campbell the woman after she died. I had just signed E. Lynn Harris to Karen Hunter Publishing for what would become his 11th straight New York Times Bestseller, Mama Dearest. We would often chat about the industry and other writers and he mentioned that while he was struggling to be discovered, he met BeBe Moore Campbell at a book event. She not only befriended him, inviting him to her home, but throughout the years, she would be the one sounding board for him, the one source of encouragement.
“She was there for me—always there for me,” he told, choking up remembering her. “She didn’t know me from Adam, but she made herself available to a budding writer and I will never forget her for that.”
Bebe Moore Campbell has written more than a dozen books but I’d like to remember her as a person who understood that talent and success are meaningless if we don’t share them with others—not just passively in books, but actively through our time connecting, encouraging, and teaching.
Karen Hunter is a bestselling author and publisher of Karen Hunter Publishing, an imprint at S&S