Arkansas-native Denele Campbell started her writing career in childhood, when at age five she scripted a small book on notebook paper and tied the fold with yarn. Diaries written in miniscule script, stories about aliens living under orange skies, and anguished poetry by the page filled her teen years. While pursuing her University of Arkansas-Fayetteville undergraduate degree in English, she packed her electives with writing classes.
“One of my writing workshops in 1970 was taught by the powerhouse team of Jim Whitehead and Bill Harrison. Lordie, what an experience! The energy was so thick you could feel it in the room. Harrison was all about story, and wanted it trimmed to the bone. No adverbs! Whitehead, on the other hand, demanded emotion. Don’t stint on modifiers! The feedback we got, fortunately, came from them both. Absolutely amazing experience.”
Life over the next twenty years then did to Denele what it does to everyone, tumbling through love, marriage and children, household and career, pets and pursuits, leaving her to fit in bits and pieces of authorship. Newspaper columns, articles on local history, biographical profiles and small evocative essays kept her writing passion on a low simmer until the mid-1990s, when she managed to fit in a couple of graduate level writing workshops with Harrison.
“Whitehead had already retired, and Bill was close on his heels. I panicked. Still so much to learn! So I crammed in the classwork even though I was divorced with three teens and a demanding career. I did the best I could with the subject–we were supposed to be learning Creative Non-Fiction. Mostly I came out of that experience feeling pretty depressed about writing even though I had managed to get my first book published. (Notes of a Piano Tuner)
“Finally, in 2005, I retired. My kids were grown. You’d think that would have been my golden moment. I wrote and wrote, but nothing seemed good enough. I had zero confidence about writing fiction, for one thing, and lots of what I wanted to write needed to be fiction. So I made a detour and spent time researching and writing local history. I loved that, but it felt like I was avoiding the elephant in the room.
“So I opened a cafe. Don’t ask. It was something I’d wanted to do for over a decade. Three years of cooking plate lunches and chasing all the business details did something to me. I haven’t figured out exactly how it happened, but somehow when I closed the cafe and came home to recuperate, I found I could write fiction…kind of.”
Now ten years into full-time writing, Campbell is plowing through thick files of ideas and half-finished manuscripts to produce mostly non-fiction works on local history. Research has become an obsession! Several articles have won awards. Stand back.