BEBE MOORE CAMPBELL
On growing up in North Philadelphia
272k WAV audio file
864k QuickTime movie
On the role of music in her book
608k WAV audio file
1.8Mb QuickTime movie
"Your Blues Ain't Like Mine"
"Brothers and Sisters"
"Sweet Summer: Growing Up With & Without My Dad"
"Singing in the Comeback Choir"
Campbell's book Singing in the Comeback Choir
- Frequent contributor to National Public Radio's
- Lives in Los Angeles
Hitting the best notes in the 'Comeback Choir'
March 17, 1998
Web posted at: 10:32 a.m. EDT (1032 GMT)
(CNN) -- Best-selling author and journalist Bebe Moore Campbell doesn't need to make a comeback, but she has written a compelling book about second chances. Her non-fiction work has appeared in a wide variety of publications, including "The New York Times," "The Washington Post," "Ebony," and "USA Weekend."
She discussed her new book "Singing in the Comeback Choir" on CNN's Sunday Morning with Bobbie Battista.
BATTISTA: So many messages ... are at work in this book. Give a brief synopsis for us.
CAMPBELL: This is a story about second chances, about starting over again.
Maxine is the protagonist. It centers around her. She's an executive producer of a talk show in L.A., very successful. Then she gets a call from her old neighborhood. Her grandmother is ill. She needs to go take care of Lindy, 76, a former singer. In going back to that old neighborhood, which is now decaying ... things start to happen so that everyone involved gets a chance to try again.
"My books are always about flawed people trying to get to their
healing. And so the message is to keep trying, basically."
-- Bebe Moore Campbell.
BATTISTA: The book is about decline... about extended family decline, the
decline of inner-city neighborhoods, even the aging jazz singer. Is there a message that you're trying to get across here?
CAMPBELL: My books are always about flawed people trying to get to their
healing. And so the message is to keep trying, basically. The message is to stay attached to the communities that nurture you, which doesn't necessarily mean moving back into the neighborhood with the crack house across the street. But it may mean going back to that neighborhood on weekends and taking your clothes to the cleaners there, if the businesses are still viable, supporting them.
Or it may mean going into the schools in that neighborhood and tutoring the kids. Or it may just mean staying emotionally attached. Because one of the things that Maxine, who's (a) professional, has ambivalence about ... how
much she wants to be attached to that neighborhood.
BATTISTA: In fact, one of her friends accuses her of having the Harriet Tubman ... Mary McCloud Bethune ... sing out loud "We Shall Overcome" complex.
CAMPBELL: Right. Which means that she is a movement baby. (She) still has some of the tenants of the civil rights movement and still feels that she ought to lend a helping hand, and to pull the rest of the people along with her.
It gets very difficult. I think a lot of people, particularly African-Americans, but probably not exclusively, when they go back to the old neighborhood and see the decay, see the decline, have that same kind of ambivalence.
On the one hand, you want to flee. On the other hand, you want to save it. And
neither one is a good choice. I mean, not totally. You can't save it single-handedly. And to flee, I think, is the worst choice of all, because then you lose part of yourself.
BATTISTA: Is this a problem that is more indigenous to, say, your generation of
black women, or young professional black women?
CAMPBELL: (Yes)... And men.
BATTISTA: Is personal experience at work here? Or...
CAMPBELL: Oh, yeah. One of the reasons I wanted to deal with this through Maxine is ... I'm working out my own demons. I very much feel that kind of ambivalence when I go back to my old neighborhood in North Philadelphia, which has changed so dramatically from when I was growing up.
BATTISTA: And, yet, they are still the cultural hot spots.
CAMPBELL: They are -- they are still the places. That's why I say (that) to
give up and disengage is a mistake. Because these are still the places where the new culture is born. It's where rap and hip hop came from. It's probably where the next music is going to come from. It's a very vibrant creative force.
And so I think we have to nurture it. We have to stay attached to it. We have to pay attention to it. It's not just going to be an individual kind of coming together that's going to pull it around. I think it's going to be a number of forces that will do that.
I do think that neighborhoods can be turned around.
BATTISTA: We always ask our authors ... what they are reading now.
CAMPBELL: I'm reading "Unafraid of the Dark," by Rosemary Bray. It's a memoir of a young woman who grew up on welfare and went on to go to Yale and become a journalist for "The New York Times." Her case is that welfare does help. Don't throw out the baby with the bath water.
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