An actress, advocate, mother, former foster child, New York Times Bestselling author, and recently appointed to the advisory board of Princeton University’s African American Studies, Victoria Rowell is currently on a nationwide book tour for her new novel, Secrets of a Soap Opera Diva, Simon & Schuster/ATRIA, after a two-year national whistle-stop book tour for the release of her memoir, The Women Who Raised Me, published by William Morrow/An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. The memoir received The African American Literary Award and two NAACP Image Award nominations in the literary category, and she walked away with a statuette for Outstanding Literary Work/Debut Author. Secrets of a Soap Opera Diva was an Essence pick and has enjoyed an extremely warm reception and rapidly growing audience, with Library Journal calling it “Juicy, gossipy, and entirely fit for the beach.”
The Women Who Raised Me is a New York Times Bestseller. It also landed on the bestsellers list of the Boston Globe and Essence magazine. Also, Amazon.com gives The Women Who Raised Me ***** (five stars).
The memoir is a tribute not only to the amazing women who cared for Rowell when her birth mother could not, but also to the foster care system that brought them into her life. “I was never meant to be raised by one mother, but by many,” says Rowell.
In conjunction with the release of her memoir, Rowell also highlighted these amazing women in her documentary, The Mentor, which made its rounds in the film festival circuit. The Mentor was chosen as official selections in the Pan African Film Festival, the Roxbury Film Festival, the Turks and Caicos Film Festival. It was seen at The Miami International Film Festival and The Miami International Women’s Film Festival where Rowell is The Distinguished Guest of 2008.
A versatile actress of theatre, primetime, daytime and feature films, Rowell is known around the world for her various roles. She is an icon in daytime television as the feisty Drucilla Winters on CBS's highly-rated daytime series, The Young and the Restless. She has been nominated twice for a Daytime Emmy and awarded 12 NAACP Image Awards. She also co-starred in the CBS hit primetime television series Diagnosis Murder with Dick Van Dyke for eight seasons.
“FAME: I Want to Live Forever”
Born in Portland, Maine, Rowell was raised in foster care for 18 years. At the age of eight, Rowell received the Ford Foundation scholarship to the Cambridge School of Ballet under the auspices of the Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. After eight years of training, she flourished as a dancer, garnering scholarships to both the School of American Ballet and the American Ballet Theater by the age of 16.
After dancing professionally with various companies -– that is, the American Ballet Theater II Company, Ballet Hispanico of New York, Contemporary Ballet, Twyla Tharp Workshop and the Julliard School of Music Dance Extension Program with Anthony Tudor – Rowell accepted guest-artist teaching posts in New England.
While teaching, the opportunity presented itself for her to pursue a career in modeling. Soon, she began gracing the pages of various magazines, including Seventeen and Mademoiselle before auditioning for her first television role.
Rowell’s Big Break
Rowell auditioned and landed a role on the highly-rated NBC sitcom, The Cosby Show. In fact, Bill Cosby was so impressed by the young actress's poise and talent that he cast her as his daughter in the feature film Leonard 6. He also gave her a recurring role on The Cosby Show as the character of Paula, the biological mother of Olivia Kendall, portrayed by Raven-Simone.
Once the acting bug bit her, she decided to pack up and move to Los Angeles to pursue her dream of acting. She began working with some of Hollywood’s award-winning leading men, including Beau Bridges, Jim Carrey, Dick Van Dyke, Mario Van Peebles, Will Smith, Eddie Murphy and Samuel L. Jackson
Finally, fate lent a helping hand and Rowell landed the role of Drucilla Winters on CBS’s highest-rated daytime drama, The Young and the Restless. At Rowell’s suggestion, Sony Television supported a foster care and adoption storyline on the number one daytime drama, which reaches an audience of millions weekly -– that is, domestically and internationally. In addition, the storyline has been praised for its portrayal of the foster care system, receiving local and national honors, including congressional recognition.
Primetime and the Big Screen Calls
On the big screen, Rowell has worked with some of Hollywood’s award-winning leading men, including Beau Bridges, Jim Carrey, Dick Van Dyke, Mario Van Peoples, Will Smith, Eddie Murphy and Samuel L. Jackson.
Rowell burst onto the silver screen, appearing in feature films such as THE DISTINGUISHED GENTLEMEN with Eddie Murphy, DUMB AND DUMBER with Jim Carrey and EVE’S BAYOU, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Diahann Carroll.
Recently, she returned to the big screen, opposite Samuel L. Jackson and rapper 50 Cent in the war drama, HOME OF THE BRAVE. The film is directed by Academy–award ® winning producer Irwin Winkler (ROCKY BALBOA, DE-LOVELY, THE SHIPPING NEWS, and the ROCKY series). Because of her strong performance, MGM, submitted Rowell for Oscar, Golden Globes, and SAG consideration.
Rowell landed a part in OF BOYS & MEN, directed by Carl Seaton (COLUMBIA COLLEGE and ONE WEEK), co-starring writer/director/actor Robert Townsend and Oscar-nominee Angela Bassett. The film is produced by Pemon Rami. Rowell portrays the sister, comforting her brother who’s wife is killed in a senseless auto accident. The film had its world premiere at the Pan African Film & Arts Festival this February.
On the small screen, Rowell portrayed matriarch Josette Metoyer, opposite Forest Whitaker in Showtime's acclaimed mini-series, Feast of All Saints. The series is based on the novel by author Anne Rice. Directed by the incomparable Peter Medak, Feast of All Saints featured an all-star cast and allowed Rowell to explore the depths of her acting ability as an elderly Haitian plantation owner.
In her role as pathologist and county medical examiner Dr. Amanda Bentley on the Viacom/CBS series Diagnosis Murder, Rowell co-starred with the legendary Dick Van Dyke for eight seasons while simultaneously continuing her role on the Young and the Restless. She was also invited to write for the series, and was recognized by the Los Angeles Times for her literary contribution to the show. Also, while on Diagnosis Murder, Rowell opened the doors for Los Angeles foster youth to be employed by Viacom as production assistants.
Having spent eighteen years in foster care, Rowell became a passionate voice for children like herself. In 1990, she founded the Rowell Foster Children's Positive Plan (RFCPP), which enriches foster children through artistic and athletic expression. In addition to facilitating job opportunities with Viacom television productions, she assisted youths in getting jobs with other companies, including BMG and Oxygen. For more information about her charity, visit www.rowellfosterchildren.org.
RFCPP partners with many other philanthropists, charities, foundations and businesses, including Sony, CBS Television, the Dr. Phil Show, the Magic Johnson Foundation, the Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation, Samuel L. Jackson and LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Cedric The Entertainer, Lorna Kyles, Sharon Stone, Camp to Belong, the California Endowment, and many others.
Rowell is an active contributor and or supporter of Americans for the Arts, the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, American Ballet Theater, School of American Ballet, the Urban League, the NAACP, the Administration of Children's Services, NYC, New Yorkers for Children, the Alliance for Children's Rights, the Children's Defense Fund, Hope WorldWide and the Department of Children and Family Services in various states.
For years, Rowell has been the national spokesperson for Casey Family Services -- an arm of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. In part, United Parcel Service visionary, Jim Casey, founded the foundation.
Rowell has been recognized for her contributions in educating and supporting foster children. She has received the Harvard Mentoring Project Certificate from the Center for Health/Harvard School of Public Health, the first National Arts Award from the National Association of Counties and the United Nations Association Award for her continuous efforts with foster care and adoption as well as her work on human rights and world peace. Recently, Rowell received honorary doctorate’s degrees from the University of Southern Maine and Wheelock College in Boston. In addition, Rowell has been honored as a National Angel in Adoption by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.
She uses her celebrity status to bring a heightened awareness and understanding about foster care to a national audience. She has been featured on various news programs and talk television shows, including CNN, CBN and BET as well as guest appearances on The View, the Today Show, the CBS Morning Show, the Dr. Phil Show and the Montel Williams Show for her work on foster care. She has also shared her story with millions of readers of People, Glamour, Essence, Jet, and Black Enterprise magazines –- just to name a few.
Very few actors embody the talent, determination and perseverance it takes to flourish in the entertainment world while understanding the importance of sharing it with the world. Victoria Rowell is that special persona. A true Renaissance woman.