Sarah Crosby Campbell Profile
Sarah Crosby Campbell (Mississippi & Corpus Christi 1988) is a writer and a photographer. She holds a B.A. in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the University of Oxford, as well as an M.S. and a B.S. in Journalism from Northwestern University.
Rhodes Project: Where did you grow up?
Sarah Campbell: I grew up in rural Mississippi.
Rhodes Project: What was the last book you couldn’t put down?
Sarah Campbell: The Sun by Philipp Meyer. It’s a saga about Texas when the west was populated by Native Americans and buffalo. I read constantly, I mean constantly.
Rhodes Project: When did you first become interested in writing and photography?
Sarah Campbell: That goes back to my teenage years. I wrote articles for the local newspaper about our high school’s sports. My mother took a photography class when we were quite small, and has always been a photographer. I was her dark room assistant, and I grew up around cameras. She let me use hers and then she taught photography after school, and I joined the program. I went to Northwestern to study journalism, so really it’s something that I’ve done all of my life.
Rhodes Project: Can you tell me about a favorite past project?
Sarah Campbell: Wolfsnail was a really special project. My son was three years old and found these very strange looking snails in our backyard one day. We took them to the science museum and learned that they were carnivorous snails that ate other snails and slugs. At the time I was a mom at home with kids who were five, three and two, and most of what I was reading was children’s books. I got really excited about the idea after learning that there was no real mention of these carnivorous snails in the library. I thought that this was the chance for me to write that book, take the photographs, and get this book on the shelves. It was a long project from the time that he found the snails until the book was published, about eight or nine years. It was my first published book. That was a special one.
Rhodes Project: What is the best part of your job now?
Sarah Campbell: This is one of those jobs that requires so many different kinds of ways of working. I’ve just delivered pictures and texts for my third non-fiction picture book. I’ve been trying to simplify something that’s complex to make it elegant and to marry words with images. I find enormous satisfaction in that creative process and making that work. At the same time, I love being in classrooms with students, writing and taking photographs. My books are content-oriented in science and math concepts, but they’re also at a reading level for early elementary students. When I go into classrooms, what I like to do is work with them on book-making so that they become involved in research, writing, re-writing and illustrating. They start to see that they can be authors and creators of text, and they can take something that is of interest to them and create something from it.
Rhodes Project: What advice would you give to your sixteen-year old self?
Sarah Campbell: Don’t be so afraid of mistakes. Nobody’s an expert and we’re all trying to get it right each day. Don’t self-edit too much.
Rhodes Project: Who are some of your role models?
Sarah Campbell: Myrlie Evers-Williams. Medgar Evers was the first executive director of the NAACP in Mississippi and he was assassinated at the age of thirty-seven in his driveway. Myrlie Evers-Williams had three young children and made a very good, meaningful, long life of being a businesswoman. She eventually became chairman of the NAACP across the United States. She brought her husband’s killer to justice after two aborted trials in the sixties. She is a woman who can love across the barriers that we create in society and has managed to raise kids and grand kids who also believe the struggle is so important, that love is important and that we have to get up every day and try to make the world a better place.
Rhodes Project: What do you do to relax?
Sarah Campbell: I sew and I quilt. It’s a great break from my writing. If I’m stuck or I’m having a hard time with visual or perceptual problems, I’ll go upstairs and I’ll work in the sewing room. It really helps with nervous energy.
Postscript: Sometime after I left full-time journalism, I was interviewed by Northwestern University's alumni magazine for a short article, giving an update on the university's scholarship and fellowship recipients. When I saw what appeared in print, I was miffed because it focused entirely on my paid work. Back then, I was spending the bulk of my time raising three young sons, while teaching and writing on the side. In this year that I will send my oldest son to college, I am still working less than half of my time for pay. As I reviewed this conversation, I noticed that I had done exactly what Northwestern interviewer had done, focused entirely on my paid work. It would take another interview with at least as much space to talk about my parenting and homemaking in the same way. I'm sure many of you know exactly what I mean.
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