Author J. California Cooper has died

Author J. California Cooper has died
Author J. California Cooper (Ellen Banner / Anchor)

Author J. California Cooper died Saturday in Seattle, her publisher Doubleday/Anchor has confirmed. The award-winning writer was 82 and had been ill.

Cooper was known for work such as the novel "Family" and the short story collections "A Piece of Mine," "The Matter of Life" and "Homemade Love."


She was writing plays when the writer Alice Walker encouraged her to try short stories. Her work received high praise in The Times, where reviewer Carolyn See found Cooper's stories "jazzy, clubby, folksy, small towny, populist, perky, and if you don't like them, you must be in an absolutely unshakable bad mood."

In that 1991 review, See continued, "Halfway between gossip and fairy tales, brimming with faith and high spirits, 'The Matter of Life' clues us in on the lives of black women. Buy it. I loved it."

Cooper was born in Berkeley and raised during the Depression. She married more than once and had a daughter, with whom she had been living at the time of her death.

She kept her personal story private. In 2000 she deflected questions from the Washington Post about what the initial J. in her pen name stood for. "My mother gave it to me, so it's mine," she said.  "I have to keep something for myself. I write books. My books are yours. And the rest is mine."

According to the Seattle Times, "J." was for Joan.

Cooper was a recipient of the James Baldwin Writing Award and the Literary Lion Award from the American Library Assn.

Her fans included National Book Award-winning poet Nikki Giovanni, who had called Cooper "my favorite storyteller."

On Twitter, singer Jill Scott wrote, "Yes friends, unfortunately the amazing woman, writer, mother J California Cooper has passed away but her spirit LIVES!!!! Open her books," adding two heart emoticons. Princeton professor Imani Perry tweeted, "I loved J. California Cooper's stories. I read everything I could by her in my youth. Her work is filled with wisdom and magic. R.I.P."

Cooper talked about writing in 2013 with Mosaic Magazine. "If you are a writer, just write. Nobody told me how to write, I just write. If you're a writer, you don't sit and wait for your work to come to you. In fact, if you are a writer, you want to do some reading and thinking.

"In their own gossipy, circuitous, roundabout way, the stories enchant you because they are not stories; they are the truth reconstructed," Terry McMillan wrote of Cooper's short story collection "Some Soul to Keep" in 1987.

Her other books include the novels "Some People, Some Other Place," "The Wake of the Wind" and  short story collections "Wild Stars Seeking Midnight Suns" and "The Future Has A Past."

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