This was the first book I read by J. California Cooper and I was forever hooked on her captivating and life lessons-filled short stories. They were Wonderful stories, especially since I’m not a fan of short story collections. Homemade Love changed all that for me. So if you haven’t tried J. California Cooper this short story collection would be a great place to start.
Check out below my review of Homemade Love and another video with J. California Cooper talking about her story writing.
Homemade Love – J. California Cooper, paperback, 175 pages (St. Martin’s Griffin)
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I’m slowly but surely working my way through J. California Cooper’s work and enjoying each one. I’m marveled at her mastery to tell a story. Anyone out there who is attempting to write short stories should absolutely read her. All the ingredients in her stories are carefully chosen and used to depict well-rounded characters placed in common life situations. All of her stories have a moral. She isn’t preachy but she definitely tries to favor the positive side of life, even in the most burdensome situations.
A Piece of Mine is only 124 pages and can be read in one sitting. It contains twelve short stories, each as interesting from one to the other. They all revolve around the central theme from the catchy title, A Piece of Mine. Cooper was very good at giving her short story collections titles. All the titles are memorable puns chosen to accompany her perfect stories. Cooper’s simple yet direct writing style shines through these relevant stories. “Her stories, parables, and monologues take flight with truths about being alive, rhythm of folks at ease by the creek and the pool table, songs of love and remorse, syncopated, galloping, and beguilingly, genuine.” Ntosake Shange (back cover of Anchor Books edition) “Ms. Cooper is as down-home as Zora Neale Hurston, thank you, and blooming into as skilled a storyteller. Cooper’s characters are the folk heroes of Black culture…Tales of triumph that give you reason to keep reading.” Essence (back cover of Anchor Books edition)
If you’ve followed me on here for a while you know there are two things I’m not so keen on reading. The first one is series and the second one is short story collections. Now it seems as if I’m turning over a new leaf with the later. Water Street by Crystal Wilkinson is my third attempt at reading them and they seem to be getting better and better. I dare say I’ve been lucky or I just know how to choose a good book. Whatever it is Water Street is a short story collection you must check out.
The overall themes are about everyday feelings and problems – race, love and family relationships, mental health, getting older, coming of age, among many others. The characters in the book range from all different types and you’ll want to hear their story during the day and their inner secrets. You’ll sympathize with them even if you won’t necessarily agree with the decisions they make. The thing that made this collection stand out for me was the way these middle-class black characters are connected to each other through living in this Kentucky town called Stanford in a community around Water Street.
Wilkinson brilliantly tells each story with emotion, description, and realism. The stories don’t necessarily finish all tied up neatly and that’s because it’s real life. That feeling is what drives the book. This is the first time I haven’t felt like I needed more from a short story collection I finished. I believe a lot of it has to do with Wilkinson’s first-rate writing and her idea of linking the characters.
Crystal Wilkinson is an African-American author from Kentucky who is one of the founding members of Affrilachian Poets, which is a grassroots organization of writers of color living in the Appalachian region. She grew up on her grandparents’ farm in eastern Kentucky where they were the only black family. Wilkinson uses this as inspiration for writing her short stories. She was a 2003 Long List Finalist for The Orange Prize for Fiction with Water Street and has written other works such as: Blackberries, Blackberries (2001), and individual works like Holler (2013), My Girl Mona, Terrain, and First Sunday Dinner on the Grounds. I’ve already read Blackberries, Blackberries and Holler and liked them as well. I haven’t heard anyone talking about this author and I urge you to give her a try if you’re interested in these themes. Wilkinson is another outstanding black woman writer is going unnoticed and that’s a real shame.