Interviews of Famous People Series: Emery L. Campbell

I used to work for Yahoo! Voices as a contributing writer and had interviewed many famous people. A recent event caused me to rummage through my electronic folders. Upon further reflection, I decided to upload the articles I wrote for Yahoo! Voices into my blog since the contract I signed with Yahoo! is no longer valid. Also, that branch of Yahoo has been shut down.

I wrote an article for Yahoo! In the haste of the interview, I was unable to take a picture of/with Emery with my camera. The picture shown here is not mine.

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The Full Life of Georgia’s 2011 Senior Poetry Laureate

The e-mail bearing the news that Emery L. Campbell of Lawrenceville, Georgia, has won the title of 2011 Georgia Senior Poet Laureate slipped into my inbox with the modesty and grace characteristic of Campbell.

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A true gentleman who age cannot seem to hold down, the 84-year-old business-executive-turned-poet is no stranger to winning contests. This year, the piece that earned him the deserved SPL honor was “Declaration of the Forswearing of Ophidian Decortication.” Chew on that title for a minute.

“This is familiar territory,” Campbell noted, very comfortable in his current position. “I’ve won the title SPL before,” he stated dismissively. “I took up poetry in 1994 after I retired from the commercial scene,” the widely published multi-linguist affirmed.

This year’s 19th annual Senior Poet Laureate competition included participants from all 50 states with 900 poems entered by 219 poets. It was not Campbell’s first success in the contest.

According to the sponsor, Amy Kitchener, Emery has represented Georgia several times by winning the SPL poetry competitions at the state level, and he took the prestigious National Senior Poet Laureate award once in 1999. He has also won numerous prizes in state and national poetry contests over the years.

“My poetry is constructed, not inspired,” he said. “It is mostly rhymed and metered traditional verse. I choose my words carefully, making extensive use of a rhyming dictionary and a thesaurus.” When asked about his muse, Campbell characterized it as “a bit of a mystery.”

Campbell admits that the highlight of his life was meeting a Dutch girl in Paris in 1957 who later became his spouse of 53 years. Born in 1927 in Monroe, Wisconsin, he has lived in France for twelve years, including two as a post-graduate student, in England for nine, and in Argentina for seven year.

He has traveled widely in Eastern and Western Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and the United States, often accompanied by his wife, Hettie. Since 1988, the two have resided in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Their sons, Julian and Lucas, live in the Atlanta area.

A longtime member and past VP of the Georgia Poetry Society, Campbell served as the organization’s contest chair for twelve years. He is also a member of the Southeastern Writers Association, the Georgia Writers Association, and the Utah State Poetry Society.

After serving four and a half years as a U.S. naval aviator, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in French from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. His knowledge of French transformed his life by helping him to land his first job overseas. It also enables him to garnish his witty poems with Français.

A 2005 Georgia Author-of-the-Year nominee, Campbell has published two books of his poems and his French-to-English translations: This Gardener’s Impossible Dream (2005) and Selected Fables and Poems in Translation (2010). Several hundred of his poems have also appeared in various other publications, anthologies, and on the Internet, and his work has been compared to that of Ogden Nash.

Early this year, his poem, “A Lawyer More Compassionate than Most,” was accepted for publication in the spring 2011 edition of the Israeli poetry and prose journal.

“A Witch in Time,” one of his pieces about a sorceress whose fear of heights prevents her from flying around town on her broomstick, is being pitched to Kennesaw State University in hopes that its music department may present it as a choral performance next Halloween.

As for words of wisdom to younger poets, Emery advises, “Poetry contests are much like lotteries. You have to keep resubmitting your work. If you win, good. If you don’t, just shrug it off.  Judges have likes and dislikes. Your winning or not often depends on how the judges feel on any given day.”

Over the years, Campbell has acquired a versatile taste in poetry and expresses particular admiration for the work of slam poet, Marvin Ayodele Heath. He often quips that Emory University was named after him, but the University spelled his name wrong.

Interviews of Famous People Series: Professor Nikki Giovanni

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Dr. Giovanni speaks to Kennesaw State University about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Nikki Giovanni Asks for a Major Motion Picture for MLK, Junior

As Kennesaw State University joins the rest of the nation to mark another deserved birthday celebration for Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior, it welcomed the world renowned poet, Professor Nikki Giovanni, as its keynote speaker. In her inaugural visit to KSU, Giovanni posed a question worthy of deep consideration.

“Why has there not been a major motion picture in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Hollywood has made movies about drug dealers and criminals, Capone, Dillinger, and so on. You have to wonder why Martin has no movie in his honor,” the bold and critically acclaimed Giovanni demanded during the 2012 annual observance on Monday, January 16.

Forty-four years after his assassination, Martin Luther King, Jr., is yet to earn a big-screen, sole-title movie right as Malcolm X and numerous other black history makers and heavyweights.

In an unpredictable mixture of history lecture, entertainment, chastisement, and religious sermon, Giovanni kept up a stream of surprising influx that kept attendees laughing hilariously and continually. Without warning, she sent them bristling from her criticisms and feeling grateful for uncountable legacies at the same time.

A distinguished professor of English at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University—Virginia Tech–since 1987, Giovanni sneaked in another title to numerous others (mother, writer, poet, commentator, and activist), that of a comedienne, as she caused riotous laughter to erupt smoothly and repeatedly.

The “Princess of Black Poetry” recanted childhood stories of her grandmother’s link to Civil Rights legends such as Rosa Parks, E.D. Nixon (who bailed Parks out of jail), and MLK, Jr. She reminded us of a very painful fact: “We lost Martin too early. He was just 39.” Ironically, Giovanni’s writing career was born in the year of Martin Luther King’s assassination.

Giovanni recited a very moving tribute to “the incomparable Martin” from her poetry collection, Acolyte. “In the Spirit of Martin,” demanded “the world to see what they did to my boy.” It traveled through civil rights cities and envisioned a present-day Martin, “the voice of his people,” wearing a tattoo and with braided hair.

One of Oprah Winfrey’s twenty-five “Living Legends,” Giovanni uplifted the mixed-race audience by urging Caucasian female writers and historians to tell the story of the frontier woman whose courage in the face of insurmountable danger has not begun to be told yet.

Georgia’s third largest university, Kennesaw State honored the woman who came to honor Martin Luther King, Jr., with a medley of orchestrated events such as songs by the KSU Gospel Choir, a rendition of the “Black National Anthem,” and remarks by President Daniel S. Papp.

A 30-minute book-signing session followed Giovanni’s speech, but the long line that curved inside the Student Center kept the famous poet signing books all evening and taking pictures. She had a smile for each adoring fan and did not show any sign of fatigue.