The Owl’s Song, 1974
The Jailing of Cecelia Capture, 1985
Women on the Run, 1999
Bloodlines: Odyssey of a Native Daughter, 1993
Custer Lives in Humboldt County, and Other Poems, 1978
Janet Campbell Hale, a member of the Coeur d’Alene tribe of Northern Idaho, was born in Riverside, California, on January 11, 1946, the youngest of four daughters of Nicholas Patrick Campbell, a full-blooded Coeur d’Alene tribal member, and Margaret O’Sullivan Campbell, who was part Kootenay Indian and part Irish. A brother died in infancy a year before Hale’s birth. She lived with her parents on the reservation until the age of ten. All of her sisters were married by that time, and she and her mother and father lived in a rural, isolated area near Tacoma, Washington. Their home was twenty miles removed from their nearest neighbor. It had no electricity or running water, and temperatures in that region sometimes dropped to 40 degrees below zero.
As an American Indian who lived both on tribal reservations and in urban American society, Hale experienced life in different cultures and endured the prejudice which exists against people of her heritage. Her books present the trials and tribulations of life under these circumstances and the battles waged to overcome them. Hale suffered verbal and psychological abuse from her mother and, when they lived at home, her siblings. Hale’s father was an alcoholic who abused her mother. After leaving to escape her alcoholic husband, Margaret Campbell and her daughter lived in three states; Janet attended twenty-one schools. Her mother was an intelligent but uneducated woman who denied her Indian roots. Because she was uneducated, she was limited to working at menial jobs. At the age of twelve, Hale lived with her mother in the Yakima tribal reservation town of Wapato, Washington. She remained in poverty throughout her childhood and dropped out of school in the ninth grade. She always knew, though, that she was destined to write.
Hale left home and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico. There she met and married Arthur Dudley III and attended the Institute of American Indian Arts. During this short-lived marriage she had a son, Aaron Nicholas. Hale was abused by her white husband and, after one year of marriage, she and Dudley divorced in 1965. She moved to San Francisco. Single, uneducated, and with a child, she struggled to provide for herself and her son.
A turning point in her life arrived when, at the age of twenty-one, she learned of an open admissions, tuition-free program at the City College of San Francisco (CCSF) that permitted her to attend without having completed high school. She was able to place her son in a government-funded day care program while she attended college. Enrolling in CCSF enabled her to gain confidence and self-esteem. She completed her studies at CCSF in 1968. While attending school, she received a grade of D in one of her writing courses. This discouraged her from writing, and she decided to study law. She enrolled in Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California at Berkeley. There she met her second husband, Stephen Dinsmore Hale. In 1970 they married and had a daughter, Jennifer Elizabeth. Hale earned a bachelor’s degree in rhetoric from Berkeley in 1974. She later attended the University of California, Davis, where she earned a master of arts degree in English in 1984.
Hale’s writing career began in her childhood. At the age of nine she wrote poetry, which she continued throughout her teenage years. In 1978 she published a book of poems titled Custer Lives in Humboldt County, and Other Poems. Her first novel, The Owl’s Song, was published in 1974. In this novel, Hale draws upon her experiences as a young American Indian seeking a better life away from the reservation. The book parallels Hale’s life, and it speaks of the prejudices she has encountered.
In 1985 her second novel, The Jailing of Cecelia Capture, was published. This book received literary acclaim and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Imprisoned and trapped between two worlds, Cecelia seeks her identity amid difficult odds. She is an American Indian caught between ties to her past and her culture and a world in which she is not truly accepted. Jailed for drunk driving, it is discovered that, in the past, she committed welfare fraud. Cecelia Capture’s life in many ways parallels the life of Janet Campbell Hale in that both had alcoholic fathers and abusive mothers. Her fourth book, Bloodlines: Odyssey of a Native Daughter, which was published in 1993, consists of autobiographical essays. Women on the Run was published in 1999.
In addition to being nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for The Jailing of Cecelia Capture, Hale has also received literary distinction in being awarded the New York Poetry Day Award in 1964 and the American Book Award for Bloodlines in 1994.
Hale worked as an educator, holding numerous teaching positions at colleges and universities, including the University of Oregon, Western Washington University, and the University of California, Davis. Also an artist, she painted what would become the cover of Women on the Run, and she painted a mural at the Coeur d’Alene tribal school.