Distinguished alumna, author Bonnie Jo Campbell to read at WMU

Contact: Mark Schwerin


KALAMAZOO--On the heels of critical acclaim for her most recent novel, award-winning author and Western Michigan University alumna Bonnie Jo Campbell returns to her alma mater this month to read from her works as part of the Gwen Frostic Reading Series.

Campbell, author of the book "Once Upon a River" and a finalist for the 2009 National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award for her collection of short stories, "American Salvage," will read at 8 p.m. Friday, March 23, in Room 105 of the Bernhard Center.

A 2011 Guggenheim Fellow, Campbell won the Foreword Book of the Year award for short fiction for "American Salvage." She also is the author of the novel "Q Road" and the story collection "Women and Other Animals."

In addition, she won the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Award for Short Fiction, a Pushcart Prize and the Eudora Welty Prize. Her poetry collection "Love Letters to Sons of Bitches" won the 2009 Center for Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook award. The English department named her this year's Distinguished Alumna.

Her celebrated "Once Upon a River" has been described as "an odyssey of a novel about a girl's search for love and identity." Its main character is Margo Crane, a 16-year-old beauty with an uncanny ability for sharp shooting with a rifle, but neither attribute has made her life any easier. In a boat on the Stark River, Margo searches for her vanished mother after the violent death of her father, in which she was complicit.

"Mark Twain owns America's rivers, and writers who venture out on those waters are obliged to acknowledge his dominion. Bonnie Jo Campbell's tough and confident "Once Upon a River," about a runaway teenager on Michigan's waterways, pays due homage to the bard of the Mississippi, but the novel also tells its own captivating story," wrote a reviewer in the Wall Street Journal.

Campbell grew up on a small Michigan farm in a house her grandfather built. When she left home for the University of Chicago, her mother rented out her room. She has since hitchhiked across the United States and Canada, scaled the Swiss Alps on her bicycle and traveled with the circus. She has led adventure tours in Russia and Eastern Europe. After earning a master's degree in mathematics, Campbell began writing fiction. She received her master's in creative writing from WMU and lives in Kalamazoo.

The WMU Department of English Distinguished Alumna Reading is cosponsored by the English department and the University Center for the Humanities.