Interview with Jennifer Cooper
In Capital Letters: What authors, poets, books, poems, stories, writing do you return to again and again?
I love re-reading certain feature articles/profiles. Some of my favorites aren’t written by big-name authors, but I think they’re fabulous examples of unsentimental prose about incredibly emotional subjects. Two that come to mind right away: “The Umpire’s Sons” by Lisa Pollack and “Adam and Meagan” by Dave Curtin. Both won Pulitzer Prizes for feature writing.
ICL: What was the first piece of writing you ever wrote, and when?
In third grade, I wrote a story about a family of talking bears on Christmas morning. In 8th grade, I placed in a creative writing contest with a western romance story that had a plot I stole from a Garth Brooks song. Looking back, I think it should have been clear to everyone that I was never going to make it as a fiction writer.
ICL: You’re known for your “reporter’s sense of sparseness” and excellence in Literary Journalism. When did you recognizethis as your niche?
Perhaps it was just the natural reaction to my aforementioned failed attempts at fiction, but beginning in high school I found myself drawn to telling other people’s stories. By college, I had no interest in inventing characters, only in capturing real-life characters on the page.
ICL: Earlier, you wrote a piece exploring race relations in Manassas. Are certain themes central to your writing and how have they changed over the years?
I don’t think I’m attracted to particular themes; I’m just a sucker for a good story. This program has really helped me see that a “good story” is often one with a clear tension where there are no easy solutions or predictable outcomes. Now sometimes when I write, I actually hear the voice of Rachel Louise Snyder asking, “Where’s the tension?”
ICL: What projects are you working on right now?
I only have one project going on right now—finish my thesis! I feel lucky, though, to be working a project that’s completely engrossing to me. I’m working on a nonfiction thesis about autobiographical memory and people who have found themselves struggling with the tension (see, there’sthat word again) between needing to remember and needing to forget.
ICL: If your life had a theme song right now, what would it be?
I’m going to have to go with Beastie Boys' “No Sleep till Brooklyn,” although I guess I would modify the lyrics a bit by saying “No Sleep till Graduation.”