Campbell attended Comstock High School (from which she graduated in 1980), and received a B.A. in philosophy from the University of Chicago in 1984. From Western Michigan University, she received an MA in mathematics in 1995 and an MFA in creative writing in 1998. She has traveled with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, and has organized adventure bicycle tours in Eastern Europe and Russia.
Campbell teaches fiction at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon, in the low-residency MFA program. Campbell lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with her husband, Christopher Magson.
Her stories and essays have appeared in Ontario Review, Story, The Kenyon Review, Witness, The Alaska Quarterly Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Mid-American Review, and Utne Reader. In 1999, her story “Shifting Gears” was the official story of the Detroit Automobile Dealers' Association Show. Cambell's literary work has been recognized and highlighted at Michigan State University at their Michigan Writers Series.
She was a finalist for the 2009 National Book Award in fiction for her short-story collection American Salvage, which the Kansas City Star also named a Top Six Book of 2009. American Salvage was also a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. She has won a Pushcart Prize for her story “The Smallest Man in the World,” the 1998 Associated Writing Programs Award for short fiction (for Women & Other Animals), and the 2009 Eudora Welty Prize from Southern Review for “The Inventor, 1972.”