Sometimes I cry, sometimes I laugh: J. California Cooper spins tales of common folk who insist on being heard.

Author:Carroll, Denolyn
Position:Spotlight
 
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J. CALIFORNIA COOPER IS AN ORIGINAL. She is the consummate storyteller, weaving tales that go straight to the soul of the many who wait to hear, feel and understand.

"If you want to write," notes Cooper, who will not give her exact age, but admits to being older than 50, "you have to know something about life. I've been around a long time. You see things, you learn things. I have always loved wisdom, even as a child."

Cooper says she played with paper dolls until she was 18. Then her mother took them away. "I decided to write my stories down, since I couldn't play them out anymore," she explains. "That's why I started with plays."

After seeing some of her plays, Alice Walker, the acclaimed poet and novelist, told Cooper that if she recast them as short stories, she would publish them. "I didn't change any of the plays that I had," says Cooper, who has 17 staged works to her credit, and was named Black Playwright of the Year in 1978. "I had a lot of people in line in my mind who had stories to tell, and I wanted to tell them."

Searching for a Place

Through three novels and six volumes of short stories, Cooper has been telling these tales in a voice that is shoot-from-the-hip direct, moralistic, cautionary yet always compassionate. Her appeal lies in her honesty, and in her ability to tell her tales through common folk, with a deceptive simplicity that flies in the face of a world going increasingly awry. Cooper, whose new collection of short stories, Wild Stars Seeking Midnight Sun, will be published in 2005 by Doubleday, established her trademark style with her first collection of short stories, A Piece of Mine (1984), which became an American Library Association Notable Book of the Year, and her follow-up collection, Homemade Love (1986), winner of an American Book Award.

The Berkeley, California, native, who also lived in Marshall, Texas, for a time, continues that compelling fulktale tradition with her latest novel, Some People, Some Other Place (Doubleday, October 2004).

Cooper, who now lives between Oakland and Gualala, California, notes that one of the main things people are ultimately searching for is a place: "People always say, 'One of these days I'm gonna get a place in ... there's a place for me ... some place to be somebody ...'" In Some People, Some Other Place, issues of deprivation, family, independence, freedom, survival, loneliness, greed, perseverance, selfishness, and the search for love and trust are played out in the...

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