Recently Clarke Historical Library hosted a reading by flash fiction author Desiree Cooper. Her first book, Know the Mother, was recognized by the Library of Michigan as a 2017 Michigan Notable Book. Cooper is a former columnist for the Detroit Free Press and found the average column length of 750 words to be a natural bridge to flash fiction, in which an entire story is told in that space. The readings she selected for her CMU presentation were wide ranging, but all came back to the universal theme of motherhood. Each piece was both poignant and evocative, immediately recognizable to mothers, daughters, sisters and wives. With the tight constraints of flash fiction individual words become especially powerful, carrying layers of meaning based on perception. In some pieces race held the key. Elements of Cooper’s own experiences show up in her writing, but her stories are not purely autobiographical. Her first person narratives take on many personas.
For her CMU visit, Cooper chose the format of an instant book club. She would read a story and the audience discussed it before she moved on to the next one. The stories were all from her book Know the Mother. She opened with “Mourning Chair” about a mother waiting for her daughter’s return home and imaging the worst. “Ceiling” was about the reaction received when a young attorney requests maternity leave. “Soft Landing” was followed by a discussion of levitation dreams. An unexpected ending to a night out for a couple of new parents is the subject of “Origins of Sacrifice.” The closing piece was “In the Ginza” which explores perceptions of interracial relationships in post WWII Japan.Cooper spoke of how she sought out the work of Detroit artists for her book cover. She found much that she liked, but none clicked as just right. Through the internet she eventually connected with Karin Miller, a South African digital artist. It’s Miller’s work seen on the memorable cover, featuring a very famous person with hands covering both her eyes and identity.