Between the Lines: Desiree Cooper

Mar 4, 2016

Desiree Cooper
Credit Justin Milhouse

Having worked most of her adult life as a newspaper columnist, Desiree Cooper says "flash fiction" — stories written as quickly, and as short as, a flash — come naturally to her. In her new story collection Know the Mother (Wayne State University Press, March 2016), Cooper, who lives in the Detroit area, makes evident the storytelling skill she acquired as a twice-nominated Pulitzer Prize journalist. As a female African-American writer and activist, Cooper often intertwines the issues of racism and sexism in her work. She's also a Kresge Literary Arts Fellow and a former attorney.

Cooper's fiction reveals a woman’s heart and mind. In a piece called “The Witching Hour,” she exposes in just a few paragraphs the worries that keep a woman up at night.

“I’m a lot like many other women,” Cooper says. “I worry. I worry about all the woulds, coulds, shoulds, and mights at night. Women often feel like the cruise directors for so many other lives. It’s so hard to pack it all into a 24-hour period of time and feel like you’re everything you need to be for everyone that needs you.”

While carrying her activism into her writing, Cooper says she wants most of all to write about the experience of being human. She often senses what she calls a “litmus test” that she's expected to pass as a writer who is a black woman.

Credit Wayne State University Press

“Is my writing black? Or is it female? That’s a little ridiculous as far as I’m concerned,” she says. “Because that’s how I walk through the world, so everything I write is both. And yet there is something that is very interesting about gender to me. If racism were to disappear tomorrow, gender would still be there, staring us in the face.”

Cooper says racism never raises its ugly head within her nuclear family. But gender is another matter entirely. “In my house, people think I know where their socks are because I have ovaries,” she says.

Cooper decided not to take her husband's last name when they married. She often found herself correcting other family members on that point. Traditional gender expectations dog her daily.

Bringing these aspects of her experience as a woman, as an African-American, as a feminist and activist into her creative work, Cooper tells a variety of stories. There's a lawyer who miscarries during a work conference, and a young mother out on a date night with her husband realizing that life will never be the same again. There's also a politician’s wife contemplating her life and finding it alarmingly akin to slavery. Most of all, Cooper says her stories are about women everywhere.

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