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Michigan author's new book explores the complexity of interpersonal relationships

Oct 5, 2015

Bonnie Jo Campbell
Credit John Campbell

Whether between mothers and daughters, brothers and sisters, or lovers new and old, human relationships are rarely tidy and neat.

This is especially true when they’re in a story by Kalamazoo writer Bonnie Jo Campbell. They’ll be powerful, offbeat, sometimes shocking and always interesting, but never neat.

That’s certainly the case with her latest book, a collection of 16 short stories called Mothers, Tell Your Daughters.

In the book, Campbell takes readers everywhere from a circus train to a farmhouse hospice bed, to castrating a donkey, to a hen house, to bicycling through the forests and mountains of Romania.

She tells us that the characters she writes are shaped by both their setting and the hardships they’ve endured.

“People have to have experienced a lot and have to make it through a lot of tough times in order to earn their wisdom,” she says.

“In this book, often the women are dealing with maybe the adversity of some kind of sexual violation, some kind of ill treatment. But I’m not interested in them as victims. I’m really interested in seeing what these characters are going to do next, how they’re going to get through their situation.”

Campbell tell us she always liked writing growing up, but kept setting it aside because it felt too competitive. But every time she focused on something else, she says she always found her attention drawn back to writing.

“It was a real revelation for me when I learned that writing didn’t really require one to be brilliant, it just required a lot of hard work,” she says. "And that's nice, because we know here in Michigan how to work hard."

Campbell talks with us about her life, how Michigan has shaped her writing, and shares a passage from Mothers, Tell Your Daughters in our conversation above.