J. California Cooper

J. California Cooper

Joan California Cooper is an African-American playwright and author.

"Her style is deceptively simple and direct and the vale of tears in which her characters reside is never so deep that a rich chuckle at a foolish person's foolishness cannot be heard." —Alice Walker

Photo Courtesy of National Book Club Conference founder Curtis Bunn

J. California Cooper first found acclaim as a playwright. The author of seventeen plays, she was named Black Playwright of the Year in 1978. It was through her work in the theater that she caught the attention of acclaimed poet and novelist Alice Walker. Encouraged by Walker to turn her popular storytelling skills to fiction, Cooper wrote her first collection of short stories, A Piece of Mine, in 1984. Called "rich in wisdom and insight" and "a book that's worth reading," A Piece of Mine introduced Cooper's trademark style: her intimate and energetic narration, sympathetic yet sometimes troubled characters, and the profound moral messages that underlie seemingly simple stories. Two more story collections followed on the heels of A Piece of Mine. In 1986 came Homemade Love, winner of an American Book Award, and, in 1987, Some Soul to Keep.

Listen to an Interview of J. California CooperInterviewed by Lee E. Meadows on Detroit's WPON's "Book Beat" Radio Program 1/18/99

Wild Stars Seeking Midnight Suns: StoriesClick to order via Amazon

ISBN: 0385511337 Format: Hardcover, 224pp Pub. Date: April 4, 2006 Publisher: Doubleday Publishing

In stories that are simple yet elegant, hard-hitting yet poignant, J. California Cooper writes about the search for fulfillment that propels people’s dreams and desires. In “As Time Goes By” a young woman named Futila Ways grows up focusing her dream of a better future on material wealth, only to discover that having everything she ever wanted cannot compensate for the emptiness in her heart. “The Eye of the Beholder” recounts the story of an unattractive young girl, Lily Bea, whose search for love leads her to embrace her own brand of freedom. And in “Catch a Falling Heart” a woman mildly crippled in a fall endures loneliness and solitude until she finds a man and provides a resting place for his love. Each story beautifully conveys the profound human need to seek some sort of satisfaction, just as a wild star seeks a midnight sun.

J. California Cooper’s insights into the hearts and souls of ordinary people and her irresistible storytelling voice have endeared her to fans and critics. As Ms. magazine wrote, “Cooper’s stories beckon. It is as if she is patting the seat next to us, enticing us to come sit and listen.”

Some People, Some Other PlaceClick to order via Amazon

ISBN: 0385496826Format: Hardcover, 384pp Pub. Date: October 19, 2004 Publisher: Doubleday & Company, Incorporated

J. California Cooper returns with a sweeping novel about love and heartbreak, perseverance and luck, telling her tale with an insight and grace that reaffirms Alice Walker's words of praise for her previous works: "Her style is deceptively simple and direct and the vale of tears in which her characters reside is never so deep that a rich chuckle at a person's foolishness cannot be heard."

In her acclaimed novels and short stories, J. California Cooper has created moving portraits of people striving to make their way in a hard, often unjust world. Whether it explores the blatant racial and class biases of nineteenth-century America or the more subtle forms of discrimination that exist today, "It is the universality of her themes that has made Ms. Cooper's work popular," as the Dallas Morning News has written.

Some People, Some Other Place is Cooper's biggest, most far-reaching novel to date. A multigenerational tale, it is set in a town called "Place," on a street named "Dream Street." In the words of the novel's narrator, "the block surely had about it a feeling of long accumulation of history, of life, of many lives intertwined." As she chronicles the interlocking lives of the residents of Dream Street, Cooper places the stories of the individuals and their families within the wider context of America's social and economic history. We meet the narrator's great grandparents, who left the poverty of the Deep South in 1895 and made their way to a farm in Oklahoma; her grandparents, who continued the northward journey with their eyes on the promised jobs of the industrial Midwest but were forced to settle without reaching their goal; and her mother, who finishes the journey and discovers that life at 903 Dream Street carries new burdens as well as rewards. The neighbors on the block are people of all colors, all striving to overcome personal troubles and disappointments, and all holding fast to their dreams of a better life.

The Future Has a Past Click to order via Amazon

Format: Hardcover, 288pp.ISBN: 038549680XPublisher: Doubleday & Company, IncorporatedPub. Date: November 2000

Read an AALBC.com book review by Thumper

Read an Excerpt

"Maisha, the narrator of "A Shooting Star," chronicles the much-gossiped-about affairs of her friend Lorene and laments her inability to differentiate between sex and love. In "The Eagle Flies," Vinnie, a single mother, devotes herself to her selfish children, letting opportunities for her own happiness slip by until it is almost too late. In "A Filet of Soul," Louella, raised to believe she is ugly and undesirable, falls for a fast-talking con man and loses her small inheritance and her dignity; but his betrayal turns out to mark the beginning of a love affair - and a life - Louella had never imagined she would find. In the final story of this collection, "The Lost and the Found," Lorene waits and waits for the philanderer she loves to marry her, almost letting the love of a good man pass her by."

The Wake of the WindClick to order via Amazon

Publisher: Doubleday & Company, IncorporatedDate Published: September 1998Format: Trade Cloth

Selected as an AALBC.com Book Club Selection January 2003 - Read the Chat Transcript

From the beloved and highly successful author of "Family" and "In Search of Satisfaction" comes a dramatic and thought-provoking new novel of one African-American family's triumph in the face of the hardships and challenges of the post-Civil War South.

From Booklist: Cooper has written her third novel and another wonderfully rich tale. Two good friends in Africa, Kola and Suwaibu, are taken from Africa and brought to America as slaves. The story of their great-great-great-grandchildren, Mordecai (Mor) and Lifee, reunites these friends' families through marriage. Mor and Lifee's life together is chronicled through their marriage, freedom from slavery, the birth of their children and grandchildren, and their deaths. Cooper has once again written a compelling story, reminiscent of The Children of Segu (1989) by Maryse Conde. All her fans will love this book. —Lillian Lewis

Some Love, Some Pain, Some Time: StoriesClick to order via Amazon

Publisher: Doubleday & Company, IncorporatedDate Published: September 1996 Format: Trade Paper

The author of In Search of Satisfaction employs her characteristic themes of romance, heartbreak, struggle and faith in Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime. Her characters offer inspiration, laughter, instruction and pure enjoyment.

From Reed Business Information, Inc.: Strongly, deliberately reminiscent of conversations over backyard fences, Cooper's genial, heartful new stories feature poor to middle-class black women reflecting on friends and neighbors much like themselves. The signature first-person monologs tell of women's perseverance in the face of economic and emotional hardship, both usually caused by fickle, selfish men, and of the recurrent?and sometimes fruitful?search for real love. A consistently natural vernacular enlivens these tales; readers familiar with black talk or with Cooper's other works, e.g., In Search of Satisfaction (LJ 9/1/94), will enjoy the engaging, comfortable rhythms and speech patterns. That most of these stories are little differentiated from one another in either form or content may frustrate nonfans, but most public libraries should acquire this winning if repetitive collection by a well-regarded author. —Janet Ingraham, Worthington P.L., OhioCopyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Homemade LoveClick to order via Amazon

Publisher: Saint Martin's Press, IncorporatedDate Published: April 1988Format: Trade Paper

Awed, bedevilled, and bemused, all Cooper's characters are borne up by the sheer power of life itself in these wise and exhilarating stories from Cooper's newest book.

From Reed Business Information, Inc.: The stories in this second collection from the author of A Piece of Mine are all about love. About sex and family too, and life when it is lived with wonder and relish. Told in first-person, in a lively, unobtrusive black dialect, these tales, set in both country and city, are lit with wisdom and high-spirited humor. In "Happiness Does Not Come in Colors," a black activist widowed in the '60s gradually allows herself to become attached to a white man, while a younger black woman finds that activism has expanded her life in surprising ways. In "The Magic Strength of Need," an ambitious girl of exceptional ugliness builds an empire of beauty products and services, is finally wooed by the longed-for rich man and learns to value the love of a constant friend. "Spooks" is a sexual comedy in which two men enjoy the favors of a recent widow whose "husband" returns to her each night. Cooper is overfond of aphoristic commentary and exclamation marks, and her narrators may have similar-sounding voices, but she tells stories that move and dance about people who pop off the page to lodge themselves firmly in the reader's affection. —Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc.

In Search of SatisfactionClick to order via AmazonPublisher: Doubleday & Company, IncorporatedDate Published: September 1995Format: Trade Paper

Cooper's second novel is an epic saga of three families whose paths intertwine with the devil in their quests for wealth, power and love. The history of the town is inextricably linked to Josephus, a freed slave, and his two daughters, Ruth and Yinyang. In seeking the legacy left by their father, the sisters pull each other into the vortex of ever-powerful emotion.

FamilyClick to order via Amazon

Publisher: Doubleday & Company, IncorporatedDate Published: December 1991Format: Trade Paper

From Publishers WeeklyIn this beautifully textured first novel by the author of the acclaimed short story collection Homemade Love , the history of one slave family becomes symbolic for all slaves and slaveholders. Clora, the granddaughter of a slave and a slaveholder, refuses to accept her life as chattel and, as did her mother, escapes slavery by committing suicide. She had tried to poison her children first, but they survive and Clora's spirit narrates their story, beginning with her daughter Always. Although her siblings pass for white to escape, dark Always endures the misery of slavery including frequent rape by the slave owner. Stealing his gold to save for anticipated freedom, she risks her life to learn how to read. When she and his wife give birth to sons at the same time, Always switches the babies, of like complexion. Her son grows up in freedom, while she raises the other as a slave--a masterful metaphor for the psychological bondage that slavery imposed on slave masters. Both young men survive the Civil War, and Always lives to see them prosper after emancipation. However, as Clora narrates, racism replaces slavery and humankind continues to suffer from its divisions. With power and grace, Cooper weaves the dialect, style and myths of the South into a portrait of the hell that was slavery. Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club alternate; author tour. —Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.

The Matter Is LifeClick to order via Amazon

Publisher: Doubleday & Company, IncorporatedDate Published: September 1992Format: Trade Paper

American Book Award-winner J. California Cooper spins insight and irony into modern-day parables about simple people who love too little and too late, and about those who toil and struggle against a difficult and often hostile environment. This fourth collection of Cooper's unforgettable stories is alternately charming, disturbing, poignant, and humorous.

From Reed Business Information, Inc.: The first of eight stories in this collection focuses on a funeral but affirms life. Almost every speech uttered by the 90-year-old narrator contains the words, "I ain't ready." Luxuriating in the love of her extensive family, she tells God and all the world that she is not ready to die. Later stories deal with poverty, abusive husbands, drug addiction, and prostitution, but even these grim situations yield nurturing down-home wisdom. Most of Cooper's first-person narrators are shrewd black women, and on occasion the stories suffer from sameness in plots, themes, and characters. Usually, however, they are touching without falling into sentimentality and totally honest without becoming crude.—Albert E. Wilhelm, Tennessee Technological Univ., Cookeville

Some Soul to KeepClick to order via Amazon

Publisher: Saint Martin's Press, IncorporatedDate Published: October 1988Format: Trade Paper

J. California Cooper writes with a transparent clarity and such exuberant energy that her characters leap off the page, bursting with stories they've got to tell--stories of simple people, stories of families and fate, of love and marriage, of death and the triumph of the human spirit.

"Her style is deceptively simple and direct, and the vale of tears in which her characters reside is never so deep that a rich chuckle at a foolish person's foolishness cannot be heard." —Alice Walker

"Cooper's stories beckon. It's as if she is patting the seat next to her, enticing us to come sit and listen as she tells complex tales about women, often poor women, chasing dreams of love, a house, and a family." —Ms.

"Cooper is humorous, wise, self-deprecating, and always expressive...her stories are about simple truths told with great energy that makes them shine." —Kirkus Reviews

"Cooper knows how to 'talk' her stories to us, as though each of them is told by a kindly and concerned friend. The sound of them is lovely, memorable, haunting." —San Francisco Chronicle

A Piece of MineClick to order via Amazon

Publisher: Doubleday & Company, IncorporatedDate Published: December 1991Format: Trade Paper

In 1984, an extraordinary first collection of short stories written by award-winning playwright J. California Cooper was published to much acclaim. Now back in print, A Piece of Mine remains one of her most loved books. "Cooper's characters are the folk heroes of Black culture . . ." —Essence.

"J. California Cooper is indeed an extraordinary writer...She has the rare quality of a natural storyteller, and her work must carry the highest recommendation. Definitely a book that's worth reading." —African Concord (Zimbabwe)

Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore MidlifeClick to order via Amazon

Carleen Brice Editor & J. California Cooper Contributor

ISBN: 0807028231Number Of Pages: 252Publication Date: May 15, 2003Publisher: Beacon Press

"Age Ain't Nothing but a Number is my roadmap."—Iyanla Vanzant

Forty-five black women writers—known and new—discuss midlife in the first anthology of its kind.

Finally, a collection that celebrates, considers, contemplates, even criticizes "midlife" from a black woman's point of view. Age Ain't Nothing but a Number ranges over every aspect of black women's lives: personal growth, family and friendship, love and sexuality, health, beauty, illness, spirituality, creativity, financial independence, work, and scores of other topics.

Midlife today isn't your grandmother's "change of life." Today, black women call hot flashes "power surges," and menopause, the "pause that refreshes." These days, middle-aged women may be newlyweds or new mothers, as well as grandmothers or widows. They may experience the empty-nest syndrome and then the "return-to-the-nest syndrome" as adult children move back home. They may navigate the field of Internet dating, travel the world, teach homeless women, take up pottery, or study international business.

This anthology captures all of these aspects of midlife as experienced by some of the finest voices in African-American writing today. Featuringthe work of Maya Angelou, J. California Cooper, Pearl Cleage, Nikki Giovanni, Susan L. Taylor, Alice Walker, and dozens of others, Age Ain't Nothing but a Number will make readers think, laugh, and cry and will be the perfect giftbook for spring.

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