Childhood & Early Life
Joseph John Campbell was born on March 26, 1904, in White Plains, New York to Charles and Josephine. He had a younger brother, Charlie.
At the age of 7, he became fascinated by Native American culture when he visited ‘Buffalo Bill’s Wild West’ show and ‘American Museum of Natural History’.
By the age of 10, he had reportedly finished reading all the books on Native Americans in the children’s section of his local library and moved to the adult section for more.
At the age of 13, he was afflicted with a respiratory ailment and attended a Catholic school, ’Canterbury School’ in Connecticut.
In 1919, his grandmother died in a fire that burned down his home too.
In 1921, he graduated from high school and enrolled for a course in mathematics and biology at ‘Dartmouth College’.
In 1925, he graduated with a ‘Bachelor of Arts’ degree from ‘Columbia University’ where he had transferred to study humanities. In 1927, he received his ‘Master of Arts’ degree.
From 1927-29, he studied in Europe and was influenced by thinkers like James Joyce, Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, etc.
He returned to the U.S. at the onset of the Great Depression and was unable to secure any teaching job.
In 1931, he embarked on a soul-searching journey across America.
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Joseph Campbell soon secured a position at ‘Canterbury School’, but was unhappy there. He wrote and sold his first short story ‘Strictly Platonic’ to ‘Liberty’ magazine during that time.
In 1933, he left his job and went to live in the woods, where he read and wrote a lot. In 1934, he became a professor in the literature department at ‘Sarah Lawrence College’.
In 1940, he assisted an Indian writer, Swami Nikhilananda, in translating ‘The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna’, who introduced him to Indologist, Heinrich Zimmer. He also gave his first public lecture ‘Sri Ramakrishna’s Message to the West’.
In 1943, he collaborated with two experts to publish his first book ‘Where the Two Came to Their Father’.
In 1944, he co-authored ‘A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake’ that simplified James Joyce’s iconic book for the readers.
From 1946 to 48, he edited and published the first two volumes of Zimmer’s posthumous papers.
In 1949, his first solo book ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’ was published and became a monumental success. He took forth the ‘monomyth’ concept that was first introduced by James Joyce.
From 1951 to 55, he edited and published the last two volumes of Zimmer’s posthumous papers. He also edited numerous books like ‘The Portable Arabian Nights’, ‘Man and Myth’, etc.
In 1956, on a sabbatical from his job, he spent six months in East Asia and learnt about Asian myths and religions. After returning to the U.S. he began giving lectures across the country.
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From 1959 to 1969, he authored several articles and books, notably, ’The Masks of God’ and edited ‘Spiritual Disciplines’, ‘The Mystic Vision’, etc.
In 1972, he retired from his teaching position and spent time editing, writing and going on month-long lecture tours across the country each year.
In 1983, the first volume of the series ‘Historical Atlas of World Mythology’ was published.In 1986, he wrote ‘The Inner Reaches of Outer Space’.
In 1986, he wrote ‘The Inner Reaches of Outer Space’.
In 1988, a series of interviews called ‘The Power of Myth’ that he gave to journalist, Bill Moyers, were broadcast on television and released in the form of a book too.
In 1989, the second book in the ‘Historical Atlas of World Mythology’ series was posthumously published by his editor.
Awards & Achievements
In 1985, he was presented with the ‘National Arts Club Gold Medal of Honor in Literature.’
Creator of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise, George Lucas, has attributed his series to Campbell’s ‘The Hero With a Thousand Faces’.
In the early 1990s, ‘The Joseph Campbell Foundation’ was set up by his widow to preserve, protect and perpetuate his work.
Family & Personal Life
In 1938, he married his student from ‘Sarah Lawrence College’, Jean Erdman. They did not have any children.
The couple lived in New York City for the majority of their lives, but after retirement, they divided their time between the Honolulu and New York.
On 30 October 1987, he passed away in Honolulu from oesophageal cancer complications.