Remembering J. California Cooper: An Unparalleled Storyteller

by Catherine Saunders

Remarkable author J. California Cooper was born in 1932 to Maxine and Joseph E. Cooper in Berkley, California. Cooper would spend most of her life in Northern California, leading a very private but prolific life. She journeyed home on September 20, 2014 in Seattle Washington, alongside her only child, Paris Williams.

As the author of seventeen plays, Cooper would later make the transition to fiction following the encouragement of author and activist Alice Walker. Cooper’s talents would go on to produce six short story collections, and two novels. Expanding her influence from books to television, Cooper’s short story “Funny Valentines” became a television movie starring Alfre Woodard and Loretta Devine.

As the recipient of numerous awards, such as 1978 Black Playwright Award for her play Strangers, The James Baldwin Writing Award (1988), The Literary Lion Award from The American Library Association (1988), and The American Book Award  (1989), Cooper combined the polish of notoriety with the grace of a humble spirit.

Combining the wisdom of a grandmother that thinks the best of you, the intention of a mother who hopes you learn from her mistakes, with the patience of a friend who knows you must make your own, Cooper’s storytelling was distinct and personal. In falling in love with her flawed yet charming characters, Cooper invited readers to love themselves. Cooper captures the multifaceted dynamic of black femininity, depicting the black woman as every woman: the lover, mother, sister and friend. Through the humor, tears and smiles of losing and finding oneself, Cooper teaches us lessons in love, life, and family. May she rest in the same peace that she has granted us as black women.

Catherine is an adjunct writing instructor and the pen behind the perspective on

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