Let me introduce you to Desiree Cooper. Author, journalist, talented crafter of stories, Ms. Cooper’s first book is one you’ll want to pick up immediately.
A little about her professional life. Desiree Cooper is a founding board member of Cave Canem, a national residency for emerging black poets. Cave Canem is a home for the many voices of African-American poetry and is committed to cultivating the artistic and professional growth of African-American poets.
She is also a Kimbilio fellow. Kimbilio is a national residency for African-American fiction writers. “Kimbilio helps the marginalized artist find a creative home.”
The criteria to participate is that you identify as an artist. It has become a place to validate experiences and is, as she describes, “a built-in network for writers of color”, which becomes helpful for career searching.
I asked her to go back many years for me, and she shared more of her history – her experiences in school – studying journalism and law. And then memories from her youth, when she shared that she has wanted to write a novel since she was four years old. She’s 56 now.
“For this to happen before it became too late – it’s a miracle for me,” Cooper shared.
We discussed her writing. Cooper is a journalist. She was a columnist for eleven years for a major paper. Through her column she witnessed issues surrounding motherhood, including gender, race, equity, and – of course – children. As a professional and creative individual, she found she had developed a thick skin.
But these stories she watched unfold serve her well in Know The Mother. (affiliate link) They enable her to create characters based on some of what she has seen, and some of what she has lived.
“There are personal stories in there,” she shares, but explains the importance of separating oneself from the stories and characters, as well.
Know The Mother includes short stories, flash fiction, which our author expresses was a wonderful way for her to capture all that she did. She defines flash fiction as “long, complicated and provocative pieces in a short space” – which she nails in the book. She says that this sort of writing is a way for her to get out her content in a compact way, which is what works for her.
One of the most important questions I felt I needed to ask after reading Know The Mother was what brought her to the mother … I wasn’t sure if it was a strange question, but Cooper understood it completely.
“Writers are born to tell one story. You have to tell that story before you can move and grow. [Know The Mother is] a culmination of conversations with my own mother, and the ones I didn’t have with her. [Conversations] with friends, sisters, other people in my life … ”
One of her most profound statements about her book had a huge impact on me, “I feel that the stories are not essays, as I know that they are true for someone else.” Don’t we all write that way – at least once in a while? When writing fiction we write what we know, what we have witnessed, what we believe to have occurred for someone, enough for it to seem true and real. And though it is fiction for us, it is life for someone else. We want our readers to feel our words and relate to them. Cooper has that down to a science in Know The Mother.
After speaking with her I understood exactly why the book held so much weight for me as I read it. Her stories about motherhood, the characters she created, represent all moms. Moms of all races, all ages, all backgrounds. Moms experiencing distress, anxiety, emotions beyond despair. At this point in her life she has experienced and seen so much. It’s no wonder she was able to put it on the page as she did.
I thought you’d enjoy this video where Cooper talks about her writing. It’s quite powerful.
Cooper and I spoke on how she came to being published, how she came to writing her book – and her story is a wonderful one – but what was most important to me, on behalf of you, and myself, was any writing advice she has for us all.
“Keep writing, and keep the hope, but be ready for when that door flies open. Because when someone points at you? You need to be ready.”
And as for her writing style?
“Chip away at your work. Write in a vacuum, but get feedback from people you trust. Revision and input [from others] as you go is huge. Doing that will help you start to develop confidence in your piece. You have to grow that, develop that confidence … remember that revision doesn’t happen at the end of the process. It happens during.”
And a few more points we writers should remember:
- Very few people write it all in one sitting.
- Write what’s meaningful to you.
- Create a diverse circle of support for yourself.
- Remember that some people won’t get it. If they don’t get it you’re not speaking to them, and that’s okay.
A final comment by our author wraps up our interview nicely, “Women make things happen. We manage the mundane, but we wave magic wands.” We do, don’t we? Now, let’s wave those wands for ourselves and get to writing!
It was a wonderful opportunity to speak with Desiree Cooper, and I’d love for one of you to enjoy her book, as well. She’s offered up a copy to one of our readers – so to be entered please consider leaving a comment about a favorite piece of writing advice you’ve received or shared. Thanks, and good luck!
I received a copy of Know The Mother to facilitate my review. All opinions are strictly my own.
Saturday 2nd of April 2016
Sounds like this would be a book I would love - I'll have to check it out. I loved the sentence "Although it's fiction for us, it's true for someone else." That's what makes a book good. Isn't it?
Friday 1st of April 2016
I was told by several writers to write what you know and what you feel. I love writing and write for me. Thank goodness a few people also like my writing...