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There was never a time when Jen Campbell wasn’t completely head-over-heels in love with books. Born with a genetic disorder called EEC syndrome (Ectrodactyly Ectodermal Dysplasia Cleft Lip/Palate), Campbell spent a large majority of her childhood in the hospital as doctors worked to rebuild her hands, feet, tear ducts, and jaw.
During her recoveries, her parents would read to her in order to pass the time and soon, Campbell became passionate about not only consuming the written word but producing it.
She published her first poem at age 11—an experience she remembers in this video with a mix of excitement and regret as her English teacher at the time insisted she wear gloves to cover her hands in her newspaper picture. Following graduation, Campbell moved to London to pursue book selling and writing, and in 2012 published the first book in her series Weird Things People Say in Bookstores. The sequel has since been a finalist in the Goodreads Choice Awards and left fans with sentiments such as:
Now, with numerous published books, a podcast, and upcoming works of poetry and short stories on the way, Campbell has continued to establish herself as the matriarch of everything literature when she opened her BookTube channel in 2014. In the same way she uses YouTube to make literature enticing and accessible to viewers, she uses her online writing courses to inspire writers around the world. The BookTube community—though still small—is a mighty collaboration of creators and fans in book reviews, tags, recommendations, and larger conversations about representation of diversity. But among the many voices, Campbell stands out for the way she talks about books. Her videos are not only from the point of view of a reader, but a bookseller, writer, and teacher.
Campbell recently made a video slamming a production company that approached her to appear on a dating show that mocks people with disabilities and deformities. On a macro level, her channel is much more than just book talks but a proper representation of what life is like for someone with a disability or deformity. By sharing her interests and passions, Campbell is showing just how normal her life is and giving individuals a touchstone to relate and interact with a community that may not have previously impacted their lives.
Campbell has not only affected the girth of my bookshelf, but inspired me to examine and demand a better range of diversity in the media I’m consuming. By proudly being herself, Campbell is making and shifting conversations, and what could be more in the spirit of YouTube than that?
Carly Lanning is a journalist who covers social media. Her work has been published by Psychology Today, NBC, Thrillist, and Ms. Magazine.