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Novelist Bebe Moore Campbell Dies

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Journalist, Popular Fiction Writer Had Brain Cancer




Journalist-turned-novelist Bebe Moore Campbell, who was diagnosed (PDF) with brain cancer earlier this year, died peacefully at home at 12:15 a.m. Pacific time Monday, her publicist, Linda Wharton Boyd, told Journal-isms. She was 56.

Campbell had written for the New York Times Magazine, the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Essence, Ebony and Black Enterprise and once was a regular commentator for National Public Radio's "Morning Edition." Her novels include "Brothers and Sisters," "Singing in the Comeback Choir" and "Your Blues Ain't Like Mine."

"My wife was a phenomenal woman who did it her way," her husband, Ellis Gordon Jr., said in a statement. "She loved her family and her career as a writer. We enjoyed life together as a team and we will miss her immensely and will love her forever."

Campbell had been cared for by Dr. Keith Black, a world renowned neurosurgeon who made the diagnosis. The death was attibuted to complications related to brain cancer.

On Sept. 23, a group of friends assembled about 150 people at a hotel at Los Angeles International Airport for "Bebe's Noontime Jam," so Campbell would know "how she was loved and how much she impacted people's lives," writer Patrice Gaines told Journal-isms. "We felt it would be as good as any medicine," and her doctor agreed, she said.

People came from all phases of her life, Gaines said; videos and photos were shared and the University of Pittsburgh bestowed on her an honorary doctorate. There were proclamations from the city and county of Los Angeles. "She was in a wheelchair, but she was in great spirits. Her voice was in kind of a whisper but she was well aware and very happy about it," Gaines said.

"She was a perfectionist with words; she deeply cared about her characters," Patrik Henry Bass, books editor of Essence magazine, told Journal-isms. She was "beloved by our readers for more than three decades. She was able to take social issues that black readers cared about" and make them appealing reading.

"Bebe was always a journalist," he said. "She always remained a journalist, though her fiction was much better known. Bebe also wrote about relationships. She was very prescient about interracial relationships" and about African American women's rising earning power and the implications for relationships. Much of her fiction grew out of her reporting for Essence, Bass said.

"She was also a great profile writer. She connected with celebrities," such as actresses Nia Long and Whoopi Goldberg. "Celebrities never turned her down. If they knew Bebe Moore Campbell was affiliated with the story, they never turned her down. She was that good. Bebe was about telling the truth. She was not about hiding important information. She revealed and held up a mirror to us, where we could see not just some of our beauty, but some of our wounds. Her words were a salve and a comfort to many readers."

Campbellâ??s research and writing interests in mental health were motivated by a loved one who was struggling with mental illness, the family's statement said. "It was the catalyst for her first children's book, 'Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry,' published in September 2003. . . . Following her childrenâ??s book, Campbell wrote [the] best seller, '72 Hour Hold,' which is fictional story about a mother trying to cope with her daughterâ??s bi-polar disorder."

"In 'Your Blues Ain't Like Mine,' her first novel, Campbell's ability to delve into the minds of multifarious characters and relate their truths was riveting. She also demonstrated her uncanny adroitness at helping readers sort through their own heated feelings about race while considering opposing views. Campbell so skillfully navigated this same risky ground with her second novel, 'Brothers and Sisters,' that it is now a text for several college race-relations courses," Patricia Elam wrote in a 1998 review in the Washington Post.

In a review of a 1987 book, "Successful Women, Angry Men," Maynard board member Dorothy Gilliam wrote in the same paper that, "Bebe Moore Campbell, a free-lance journalist who suffered through the phenomenon in her own failing marriage and then confirmed it in interviews with more than 100 couples around the country, found the ingrained sexism of these couples' childhoods was more powerful than the ideals they tried to live up to.

"What's interesting about Campbell's work . . . is that she takes the unusual step of looking at a social issue and includes the perspective of many ethnic groups in her survey. While most of Campbell's interviewees were white, she includes a significant number of blacks, and Hispanics and Asian Americans as well. As a successful black writer who is bringing a hidden national problem out of the closet, Campbell has established herself as an authority about an issue of general interest."

Alice Bonner, who teaches journalism at the University of Maryland, recalled that Campbell "was part of a circle of freelance writers who knew D.C. well and could dig out great kernels of insight into the city that was beyond the hard news" when Bonner edited the Washington Post's District [of Columbia] Weekly section, circa 1982. "I thought she was a real loss to daily journalism, but one has to applaud her body of work," Bonner said.

Bass, like many, noted that Campbell's death followed that of journalism professor Phyl Garland, CBS correspondent Ed Bradley and former New York Times Managing Editor Gerald M. Boyd, all in the last month. "All of them were iconic in what they did. They broke ground where there was no predecessor," he said of these African American journalists.

Elizabeth Bebe Moore Campbell Gordon, an only child, was born Feb. 18, 1950, in Philadelphia. She was educated in the Philadelphia Public Schools and received her bachelor of science degree in elementary education from the University of Pittsburgh in 1971.

Upon graduation from the University of Pittsburgh, she became a teacher and taught elementary school in Atlanta from 1972 to 1975.

"Bebe quickly learned that teaching was not her lifeâ??s work. Searching for more, she enrolled in a writing class taught by renowned author Toni Cade Bambara," the statement said.

In addition to her husband of 22 years, survivors include her mother, Doris Moore of Los Angeles, and two children, Maia Campbell of Los Angeles and Ellis Gordon III of Mitchellville, Md.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be sent to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill—Urban Los Angeles and the United Negro College Fund.

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TV, Newspaper Differ on Showing Vick's Gesture




"Michael Vick apologized for making an obscene gesture toward Atlanta fans as he walked off the field after the Falconsâ?? fourth straight loss yesterday," as Charles Odum wrote Monday for the Associated Press. But for some fans, whether you saw the gesture depended on whether you were watching television or reading the newspaper.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the hometown paper, showed the gesture.

"There was a lot of discussion about the photo and whether to run, blur it (like the networks did) or not run it all," Sports Editor Ronnie Ramos, a 1991 alumnus of the Maynard Institute Management Program, told Journal-isms.

"We eliminated the blurring option early on because we felt that falls under distorting a photo and we did not want to get into that area and threaten our credibility with readers (some readers may then think or wonder what else we do to photos).

"We decided to run it because it was Michael Vick—he is the face of the organization, the NFL's highest-paid player and one of this country's most recognizable athletes," Ramos continued.

"If it was any other Atlanta athlete, I don't think we would have run it. He has been held up by the team's owners as a community leader, he's a spokesman for a major airline. He is, in essence, the face of Atlanta sports. The video was run on three networks all night Sunday, which also contributed a little to our decision.

"Amazingly, we have gotten only two phone calls complaining about the photo being in the paper," he said Monday afternoon.

ESPN's policy calls for obfuscation, spokesman Josh Krulewitz said.

"That's been our policy regarding that particular gesture," he said via e-mail. With "a pixiliated version of it, along with verbal characterization, we can give people an accurate portrayal of what happened."

Monday's Journal-Constitution story ended with this request: "Were you among the fans in the stands when Vick gave his obscene gesture? Do you have a photo or video of it? If so, our reporters would like to contact you for a story we're working on. Please email"

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Artist Defends Work Against "Political Correctness"

A Rome, Ga., editorial cartoonist whose drawing of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il speaking with a mock-Asian accent was denounced by the Asian American Journalists Association told Journal-isms he makes no apologies for the cartoon and that "it's a commonly accepted fact that white male Caucasians are the last pinata in satire."

AAJA urged newspapers not to run Mike Lester's Oct. 24 cartoon because it "perpetuates the stereotype that Asians are 'others' and worthy of ridicule—the use of those butchered words is the equivalent of buck teeth, slanted eyes and all those other hurtful images and words that need to be buried.

Lester replied to Journal-isms via this edited e-mail:

"In a free society, political correctness is counter intuitive and the proverbial two steps back in the one-step-forward equation. Referring to my cartoon as a 'racial slur' is a persistent hollow complaint whose logic—or absence of, falls flat, given there is never any hue or cry when I similarly lampoon Caucasians or any other white ethnic group. It's a commonly accepted fact that white male Caucasians are the last pinata in satire and so long as you've got a sacred cow I can't milk, nobody gets milkshakes.

"That Asians or any other minority assimilating into a democracy are entitled to unique consideration and a sensitivity [to] their aversion to caricature, is racist. Had the cartoon in question been signed with an Asian surname, we would not be having this discussion, therefore making its condemnation a racist reaction. I respectfully submit my doubts that anybody's dialing Margaret Cho's number with similar complaints.

"Unlike affirmative action, which is the definition of racism, the argument for equality in America is loud and valid, but its ability to stand on its own relies on the premise that everybody plays by the same rules. Anything else is exclusionary.

"Try this on for kicks, which of these movie titles is real and which two would never be made in a million years:

"White Men Can't Jump"

"Black Men Can't Swim"

"Asians Can't Drive"

"In light of recent 'n-word' headlines, dialog has never been a more welcome and essential part of my job. A job whose intent is not to deride or divide but to point out the obvious."

Lester, 51, who was raised in Atlanta and draws for the Rome News Tribune, said he had no idea how many news outlets ran the cartoon. "I'm in anywhere from one to 1500 papers any given day and [in] who knows how many sites thru my syndicate, or," he said.

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Levert Story Called Example of Need for Diversity

"The importance of diversity in a newsroom gets a lot of lip service—about how decisions made and advice heeded from journalists of many backgrounds will produce a newspaper rich in its understanding of all sides of its readership," public editor Ted Diadiun of the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote Sunday. "This was a textbook example of diversity at work."

He was writing about the newspaper's coverage of the Nov. 10 death of R&B crooner Gerald Levert.

"I don't know that I've ever seen a greater disconnect between two major segments of our audience than in the wake of this newspaper's coverage of Levert and his legacy," Diadiun wrote. "Some readers will always remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. And others were hearing his name for the first time.

"It is always dangerous to generalize about race, but it is impossible not to note the reaction separated along racial lines: Black readers were complimentary and grateful that the paper acknowledged Levert's passing with such sensitive and vigorous coverage.

"White readers were puzzled—some even stunned—at the fuss over somebody many of them had never heard of."

Plain Dealer pop music critic John Soeder, who is white, wrote the bulk of the stories with reporter Margaret Bernstein, a black journalist. He told Diadiun:

"My initial reaction was that I was surprised—and saddened—that people were so surprised it was a big story. Gerald came from the royal family of R&B in Northeast Ohio, and he was a major figure nationally. For me, the surprise underscored the notion that there really are two Americas."

"So I wound up being proud of how we covered this story," the public editor said.

The Plain Dealer wasn't the only news outlet where the death of Levert tested sensitivities to black community news: While the death was reported on National Public Radio's newscasts, "All Things Considered" skipped over the Levert news on Friday, picking it up on its Saturday edition.

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Gerald Boyd Memorial Service Scheduled Thursday



A memorial service for Gerald M. Boyd, the only journalist of color to reach the top ranks of the New York Times, is scheduled for Thursday at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, 103 West 135th St. in New York.

The service, scheduled from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., will feature "reflections about Gerald" from "people who knew him and loved him," who will discuss "what he meant to their lives. Journalism has lost a leader in our industry," said Dana Canedy, a New York Times editor who is helping to plan the service. The Schomburg seats about 350, she said.

Boyd, who rose to managing editor at the paper, died at 56 on Thanksgiving Day after battling lung cancer.


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Chips Quinn Scholar, Maynard Alum Rises to M.E.

The Chips Quinn program, founded by the Freedom Forum in 1991 to help train journalists of color to enter the newspaper business, is celebrating a milestone: One of its more than 1,000 graduates has risen to managing editor.

Martin G. Reynolds, a 38-year-old Berkeley, Calif., native, West Oakland resident and 2005 graduate of the Maynard Institute Media Academy, has been named managing editor of the Oakland Tribune.

The Media Academy prepares high-potential individuals for first-time promotions to entry-level management roles on both the editorial and business sides of newspapers.

"This shows the power of the Media Academy as a program that quickly prepares participants to lead this industry forward," said Dori J. Maynard, president of the Maynard Institute.

"I have been reading The Oakland Tribune since the days Bob Maynard owned the paper with those questionably colored trucks with `Reach for the Peach,' all over them," Reynolds said, laughing, according to a story on the Chips Quinn site. "I have been with this newspaper my whole career."

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Debate Over N-Word Travels to Paper Overseas

Comedian Michael Richards went on Jesse Jackson's radio show Sunday to apologize for his racist tirade, and the renewed discussion of the well-known racial epithet he used spread overseas, in the pages of the Guardian newspaper in England.

In this country, black leaders on Monday challenged the entertainment industry, including rappers, to stop use of the racial slur, Greg Risling of the Associated Press reported.

"Jackson and others said they will meet with TV networks, film companies and musicians to discuss the 'n-word.'

"'We want to give our ancestors a present,' Jackson said at a news conference. 'Dignity over degradation.'

"At the press conference, comedian Paul Mooney said he has used the 'n-word' numerous times during stand-up performances but will no longer do so after watching Richards' rant.

"'He's my Dr. Phil,' the black comedian said. 'He's cured me.'"

U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., charged that only situations such as the Richards incident turn mainstream media attention to issues involving the black community.

In the Guardian, readers' editor Ian Mayes wrote Monday:

"On Wednesday last week (November 22) the Guardian carried two pieces about a racist outburst at a Los Angeles comedy club by the actor Michael Richards who plays Kramer in the television show Seinfeld. One was a news report on the international pages of the main paper by its Los Angeles correspondent, Dan Glaister. This was headed: Seinfeld actor lets fly with racist tirade. The text spelled out the word 'nigger', used repeatedly by Richards in a sustained rant at a heckler (a black man) lasting some two minutes. The word was also picked up in the caption to an accompanying picture of Richards who, it said, 'was filmed calling black audience members "niggers". . .'

"The other article was a personal piece by Joseph Harker, the editor of the Guardian's Response column, who is black. This appeared in the features section G2 under the heading Nothing to laugh about in Kramer's n-word routine.

"By agreement between Harker and the G2 editors, the word appeared with asterisks, n*****. Harker strongly believes that there are no circumstances in which the word should be spelt out and this view was respected in the treatment of his G2 opinion piece. I think that was the right thing to do.

"This created an apparent anomaly, noted by several members of the Guardian staff in a poll I conducted, to which I am coming, in which Harker quoted, unasterisked, Richards's use of the word 'fucking' followed almost immediately by "n*****". The Guardian's guidelines on the f- and c-words say that when it is felt to be necessary to quote their use then they should be spelt out. In those circumstances the use of asterisks, in the editor's words, is a cop-out. However, I agree with Harker who has argued, as others have, that there is a significant distinction between the effect, the weight and the history of those words and the use of the word to which he so strongly objects."

Meanwhile, Esquire magazine has published in its December issue a piece called, "The Manifesto of Ascendancy for the Modern American Nigger," by John Ridley.

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Short Takes

  • Wil Haygood wrote Sunday in the Washington Post about Moses Newson, "one of the black reporters who covered civil rights battles in the Deep South before the phrase 'civil rights' imprinted itself onto the American mind. Newson was one of many reporters assigned to one of the most riveting stories in American journalism (though not every newspaper realized it at the time)—the epic battle for equal rights. The tales from those dangerous, sometimes life-threatening assignments get told in a new book, 'The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation,' by Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff.
  • "The Dallas Morning News is planning to shake up its immigration coverage. And while the Morning News currently does not have a designated immigration reporter, reliable sources indicate this may be about to change," Sandra Zaragoza wrote Monday in the Dallas Business Journal.
  • "ESPN football analyst Michael Irvin says he's sorry for his comments on Dan Patrick's national radio show a week ago that Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo's athletic ability must be due to African-American heritage. 'It's clear I was joking around. But I understand my comments were inappropriate. I apologize for those comments,' Irvin said in a phone interview Sunday, after appearing on ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown," Michael McCarthy reported Monday in USA Today. However, Roy S. Johnson pointed out Friday on his "Pass the Word" blog that "Romoâ??s Latino. Mexican American to be exact. Ramiro and Phyllis Romo, his paternal grandparents, are Mexican."
  • A man convicted of the April 2005 shooting of a former WDIV-TV employee was sentenced Wednesday to 16 to 32 years in prison for attempted murder," Naomi R. Patton reported Thursday in the Detroit Free Press. "Wayne County Judge James Callahan also sentenced Epifanio Rivas Jr., 27, of Detroit to two years for a felony firearm charge." The victim was former WDIV-Local 4 employee John Owens, 53, a senior producer for Mort Crim Communications, an independent production company.

Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites, but use may be illegal in some states. Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.

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