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September 22, 2014 at 2:10 PM

Obituary: J. (Joan) California Cooper

Seattle Times theater critic Misha Berson writes:

A prolific author of plays, novels and short stories, J. (Joan) California Cooper passed away Saturday, Sept. 20, in Seattle, where she lived with her daughter Paris Williams since 2013.  Ms. Cooper was 82.

Born in Berkeley, Calif., and a longtime Bay Area resident, Cooper penned at least 17 plays.  Her script  “Loners”  was given a staged reading in Seattle in 2010, by the Lorraine Hansberry Project, which also honored Ms. Cooper as a Hansberry Project Legend.

But she received widest recognition for her fiction. Encouraged by fellow author Alice Walker, who compared her to Zora Neale Hurston and wrote that her “style is deceptively simple and direct and the vale of tears in which her characters reside is never so deep that a rich chuckle at a foolish person’s foolishness cannot be heard,” Ms. Cooper published more than a dozen books of prose, both novels and short stories. Her story “Funny Valentines” was made into a TV movie starring Alfre Woodard.

Ms. Cooper was the recipient of numerous literary prizes, among them an American Book Award (for her story anthology, “Homemade Love”), a James Baldwin Writing Award and a Literary Lion Award from the American Library Association.

Memorial services have not yet been planned.

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