Celebrating Black women writers: J. California Cooper

March 7, 2019

J. California Cooper

The first African American female writer featured this month is J. California Cooper. Ms. Cooper was honored as Black Playwright of the Year and has received the America Book Award, the James Baldwin Writing Award and the Literary Lion Award from the American Library Association. Ms. Cooper passed on September 26, 2014. I have a few of her books in my collection, Family, Life is Short But Wide, The Matter is Life and Homemade Love. — Take the time to sit back and enjoy a collection of stories about romance, family and hope. – Lynda

J. California Cooper was born in Berkeley, California. As a child, she invented stories about her paper dolls. Once she turned 18, however, her mother decided she was too old to continue playing with dolls. Cooper had no alternative but to begin writing her stories down.

The “J” in her name stands for “Joan,” “California” is for the state where she was born, and “Cooper” is her father’s name. While she has at times moved away from her home state – living for a while in Alaska, and in Texas for seven years – Cooper later resettled in Oakland. Cooper told Emerge Magazine that she chose to call herself “California” in imitation of her favorite playwright, Tennessee Williams; some reviewers have mentioned a similarity in their work as well as their names. “You have to have a name, and I wanted something I could give to people. They can have California,” she told Emerge.

This protective attitude toward her first name is typical of her skeptical view of publicity. While biographical details on Cooper are scarce, one of the few things that is well known is her unwillingness to allow her privacy to be lost due to her success.

In 1984, J. California Cooper’s short story collection, A Piece of Mine, was the first book to be published by Wild Trees Press – a publishing company set up by African American novelist Alice Walker and her partner, Robert Allen. “Others will now have the opportunity to enjoy Cooper’s talent, humor, and insight into character,” Walker wrote in the introduction to the book. Praising Cooper’s style as “deceptively simple and direct, Walker wrote that “In its strong folk flavor, Cooper’s work reminds us of Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston.”

The following is a list of books by J. California Cooper:

• A Piece of Mine,
• Some Soul to Keep
• Homemade Love
• Family
• Some People, Some Other Place
• Life Is Short but Wide
• Wild Stars Seeking Midnight Suns
• Wake of the Wind
• The Matter Is Life
• In Search of Satisfaction
• Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime
• The Future Has a Past