Story by Elizabeth Walztoni, Staff Writer
Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Walztoni
Thursday, Nov. 8 brought writer Desiree Cooper to Aquinas College for the second Contemporary Writers Series event of the semester.
Cooper is a Pulitzer-Prize nominated journalist, former attorney and community activist who specializes in flash fiction — stories fewer than 1,000 words. She writes like this because of her experience with the limited word counts of journalism, but enjoys the shorter medium because of the different ways it affects each reader: the vignette “takes you and lets you go, and then the story is yours.” One is free to explore the unique way each tale resonates.
At the event she read from her newest collection, “Know the Mother.” The stories center around the theme of motherhood, one that Cooper says relates to all of our lives. The archetype of the mother overshadows the individual human being, she explained, and this collection of stories is an effort to look beyond the constraints of ideals and gender norms to touch what lies beneath.
The reading followed a format that Cooper calls the “instant book club”: she read one story aloud and invited the audience to discuss it as a group. Each story touched on complex themes through tales of everyday life. One evoked the global state of womanhood; another, the way that ideals of beauty change over time; the last, how the export of American culture also exports its values, including racism. Through each reading, Cooper reminded the audience that “gender is a construct underlying so much of our lives,” and the consequences manifest in many ways.
Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, Cooper brought a bright sense of humor to the discussion. The audience laughed at her nightmare of going to hell with the Osmond brothers, joking criticisms of Freud and tales of her own motherhood. The night was engaging throughout and brought many important ideas to the table in perhaps the most accessible way: through the stories of everyday people around us. Cooper, too, enjoyed the evening — she said colleges are her favorite venue because of the “unique curiosity that students bring to the page.”
Her new book is available for purchase now, and additional information on her work can be found at http://www.descooper.com/.
About the Writer: Elizabeth Walztoni is a sophomore majoring in Environmental Studies with concentrations in Ecology and Sustainability & Policy.