Bonnie Jo Campbell
Bestselling Fiction Writer
National Book Award Finalist
“Campbell is a bard, a full-throated singer whose melodies are odes to farms and water and livestock and fishing rods and rifles, and to hardworking folks who know the value of life as well as the randomness of life's troubles.” —Entertainment Weekly
"American fiction waited a long time for Bonnie Jo Campbell to come along." —Jaimy Gordon
"Campbell’s an American voice—two parts healthy fear, one part awe, one part irony, one part realism." —Los Angeles Times
Bonnie Jo Campbell is the author of the National Bestselling novel Once Upon a River (Norton, 2011). A river odyssey with an unforgettable sixteen-year-old heroine, which the New York Times Book Review declares, "is, rather, an excellent American parable about the consequences of our favorite ideal, freedom." Her first novel, Q Road, delves into the lives of a rural community where development pressures are bringing unwelcome change in the character of the land.
Campbell's critically-acclaimed short fiction collection American Salvage (Wayne State University Press, 2009) was finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critic’s Circle Award. The collection consists of fourteen lush and rowdy stories of folks who are struggling to make sense of the twenty-first century. Donna Seaman wrote, "Campbell’s busted-broke, damaged, and discarded people are rich in longing, valor, forgiveness, and love, and readers themselves will feel salvaged and transformed by this gutsy book’s fierce compassion." Campbell's collection Women and Other Animals, won the AWP prize for short fiction, and details the lives of extraordinary females in rural and small town Michigan. Her story "The Tatoo" is included in the anthology Shadow Snow, a tribute to Ray Bradbury. Her story "The Smallest Man in the World" was awarded a Pushcart Prize and her story “The Inventor, 1972" was awarded the 2009 Eudora Welty Prize from Southern Review. She is a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow.
Bonnie Jo Campbell grew up on a small Michigan farm with her mother and four siblings in a house her grandfather Herlihy built in the shape of an H. She learned to castrate small pigs, milk Jersey cows, and, when she was snowed in with chocolate, butter, and vanilla, to make remarkable chocolate candy. When she left home for the University of Chicago to study philosophy, her mother rented out her room. She has since hitchhiked across the US and Canada, scaled the Swiss Alps on her bicycle, and traveled with the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus selling snow cones. As president of Goulash Tours Inc., she has organized and led adventure tours in Russia and the Baltics, and all the way south to Romania and Bulgaria.
For decades, Campbell has put together a personal newsletter—The Letter Parade—and she currently practices Koburyu kobudo weapons training. She has received her MA in mathematics and her MFA in writing from Western Michigan University. She lives with her husband and other animals outside Kalamazoo, and she teaches writing in the low residency program at Pacific University.
About ONCE UPON A RIVER (Novel, 2011)
“With all the fixings of a Johnny Cash song—love, loss, redemption—Campbell captures these Michiganders and their earthy, brutal paradise in tales rich with insight and well worth the trip.” —Elle
Bonnie Jo Campbell has created an unforgettable heroine in sixteen-year-old Margo Crane, a beauty whose unflinching gaze and uncanny ability with a rifle have not made her life any easier. After the violent death of her father, in which she is complicit, Margo takes to the Stark River in her boat, with only a few supplies and a biography of Annie Oakley, in search of her vanished mother. But the river, Margo's childhood paradise, is a dangerous place for a young woman traveling alone; and she must be strong to survive, using her knowledge of the natural world and her ability to look unsparingly into the hearts of those around her. Her river odyssey through rural Michigan becomes a defining journey, one that leads her beyond self-preservation and to the decision of what price she is willing to pay for her choices.
About AMERICAN SALVAGE (Stories, 2009)
American Salvage is rich with local color and peopled with rural characters who love and hate extravagantly. They know how to fix cars and washing machines, how to shoot and clean game, and how to cook up methamphetamine; but they have not figured out how to prosper in the twenty-first century. Through the complex inner lives of working-class characters, Campbell illustrates the desperation of post-industrial America, where wildlife, jobs, and whole ways of life go extinct and the people have no choice but to live off what is left behind.
National Book Award Citation:
In American Salvage, Bonnie Jo Campbell picks through the ravages of a small-town America gutted by shifting demographics, new technology, and methamphetamine. Eschewing nostalgia or bitterness, she leads with her curiosity, using canny observation and sensuous prose to coax the reader into dark, strange, primordial territory. These short stories approach their subjects from an array of perspectives, but what they share is freshness, surprise, and a compulsion to plumb some absolute extremes of American existence.