Nationally acclaimed author Bonnie Jo Campbell has written about and experienced adventure around the world. Her education at WMU is part of the reason she still calls Kalamazoo home.
Her deep connection to Southwest Michigan and sense of place is also part of the reason literary critics are hailing her latest novel, “Once Upon a River,” and comparing her writing to the likes of James Fenimore Cooper, Mark Twain and Henry David Thoreau.
“Without sacrificing any of its originality,” Washington Post book critic Ron Charles writes, “this story comes bearing the saw marks of classic American literature, the rough-hewn sister of ‘The Leatherstocking Tales,’ ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ and ‘Walden.’” The New York Times calls the book “an excellent American parable about the consequences of our favorite ideal, freedom.”
A national best seller in hardcover, “Once Upon a River” was recently released in paperback.
Campbell earned two degrees at WMU toward her intended career of teaching math. She credits her change in plans to a professor who encouraged her to take a writing class.
“I always wanted to write, but didn’t have the confidence to put it first in my life. I had the encouragement and support I needed at Western. It changed my life,” says Campbell, who went on to earn a third degree in creative writing.
Her success includes the critically acclaimed short-fiction collection “American Salvage,” which consists of 14 lush and rowdy stories of folks struggling to make sense of the 21st century. It was a finalist for the 2009 National Book Award in Fiction.
A 2011 Guggenheim Fellow, Campbell is the 2012 Michigan Library Association Author of the Year.
Campbell grew up on a small farm near Kalamazoo with her mother and four siblings. She left Michigan to study philosophy at the University of Chicago, and her travels have taken her across the United States, Canada and Europe. She has scaled the Swiss Alps on a bicycle and traveled with the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus selling snow cones. She teaches writing in the low-residency program at Pacific University and lives in Kalamazoo with her husband and two donkeys, Jack and Don Quixote.