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J. California Cooper papers, 1956-2005.
BANC MSS 2017/195 box 1; BANC MSS 2017/195 box 2; BANC MSS 2017/195 carton 1; BANC MSS 2017/195 carton 2; ...
Collection Overview


J. California Cooper papers, 1956-2005


Cooper, J. California, creator, creator.


The J. California Cooper papers document her literary life. The collection contains correspondence with, personalia from, and writings by the award-winning African American author. Correspondence is personal and professional, incoming and outgoing. It includes cards and letters to family members, fan mail, and correspondence and related materials about specific publications. There is ephemera related to personal appearances and readings, awards, and conferences about Black literature; flyers and programs from Cooper's plays; and materials related to Black theater more generally. Personalia includes articles about Cooper; biographical materials; date and address books; financial records; interviews; materials related to astrology and astronomy, including an audiotape; a file on PEN prison visits; a few photographs; and a speech. The bulk of the collection consists of draft manuscripts, notes, and typescripts of published, unpublished, and unfinished works. Most of these writings were undated. Original folder titles were retained.


1956 (issued)


Cooper, J. California -- Archives
Women authors, Black
African American authors
African American women -- History


COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE: Advance notice required for use.
J. California Cooper papers, BANC MSS 2017/195, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
Gift of Paris Williams; 2017.
In English.
J. California Cooper was an award-winning writer whose short stories, novels, and plays illuminated the lives and struggles of ordinary African American women. She was born Joan Cooper in Berkeley, California in 1931. Her father, Joseph, worked in the scrap metal business, and her mother, Maxine Rosemary Lincoln Cooper, was a welder during WWII, and later ran a beauty salon. Cooper attended technical high school and several colleges, including University of California, Berkeley. She worked on the Alaska pipeline, was a manicurist, secretary, and escrow account officer, and drove a bus and a big rig. She raised her daughter and wrote in her spare time. In 1978, Cooper was named San Francisco's Black Playwright of the Year for her play "Strangers." Her first book of short stories, Piece of Mine (1984), was the first title published by Wild Trees Press, the publishing company founded by Alice Walker and her partners, Robert Allen and Belvie Rooks. All told, Cooper published 17 plays, seven short story collections and five novels, including Homemade Love, which won an American Book Award in 1989. She also won the James Baldwin Writing Award and the Literary Lion Award from the American Library Association. Cooper was a devout Christian, and her religious values informed her stories. She drew on the African American oral tradition, and critics often compared her to Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, and Toni Morrison. Cooper lived most of her life in the San Francisco Bay Area, but spent some years in the late 1980s and early 1990s in Marshall, Texas -- her father's hometown. She moved to Seattle in 2013 to live with her daughter, Paris Williams. Williams described how her mother came up with her distinctive pen name: "There was a Tennessee Williams, so she thought, 'Why shouldn't there be a California Cooper?" Cooper died in Seattle on 2014.


Short stories.
Manuscripts for publication.

Physical Description:

4.4 (3




BANC MSS 2017/195 box 1
BANC MSS 2017/195 box 2
BANC MSS 2017/195 carton 1
BANC MSS 2017/195 carton 2
BANC MSS 2017/195 carton 3
BANC MSS 2017/195



Copyright Note:

COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE: Advance notice required for use.