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Michigan author's flash fiction book "Know The Mother" tackles gender, race in bite-size format

Oct 6, 2016

Credit Wayne State University Press

Many women can relate to the witching hour. In the middle of the night, you wake up and have trouble falling back to sleep because your mind is racing. Concerns about the upcoming day, anxiety about the mounting to-do list while, oftentimes, your partner sleeps soundly next to you. The Witching Hour is the title of the first story in a collection of “flash fiction” – not short stories – by Detroit-based writer Desiree Cooper, titled Know The Mother.

Cooper wanted to be a writer from the age of four. She later became a lawyer, before transitioning into journalism where she was an editor, a columnist, as well as a radio commentator for NPR and the BBC. With all of those professional roles, it’s her experience as a wife, mother, and daughter that are at the heart of this collection of 31 stories that range from a couple pages to a single paragraph.

Cooper joined Stateside to talk about the book and the different stories within it.  

“Every story [in Know The Mother] is my truth, even if it didn’t happen to me,” said Cooper.

The stories within the book explore gender and race and many other topics that have touched her life in some way. And not all of them are heartwarming, but rather, the truth.

I think sometimes what fiction can do is articulate a truth that you just don't even dare talk about. Or maybe sometimes you think it’s only you

Some of the stories include a lawyer carrying on with a conference call even as she is beginning to miscarry, a daughter accepting the death of her mother, and a young pregnant wife watching her marriage dissolve with a husband who doesn’t want to be a father.

“I wish I could just write happy-happy, joy-joy, but I guess that’s what we have the other things in life for – your friends and your diversions,” said Cooper. “I think sometimes what fiction can do is articulate a truth that you just don’t even dare talk about. Or maybe sometimes you think it’s only you.”

That truth is shared by so many other people in these stories which, as she said, can walk the line between poetry and prose. While the reader or, in some cases, the author may not have walked in the shoes of the people in a particular story, many of the tales involve topics that have touched the lives of numerous individuals and make Know The Mother very accessible.

Every story [in Know The Mother] is my truth, even if it didn't happen to me.

“Some people have said to me reading some of these [stories] … how can you say that or even when I talk about the book, I’ll reveal things about myself and I’m like, because I’m not alone. Because I didn’t invent this … why are we so quiet and heroic about our suffering?”

Listen to the full interview below as Cooper describes winning a Kresge award and how her experience in journalism and column writing impacted Know The Mother. Cooper also reads some excerpts from the book.