Givens Black Books recommends Homemade Love

J. California Cooper short story collection a classic

Photo courtesy of St. Martin's Griffin

“Life is more like the rain. The river and the lake lay down for you… But life don’t do that…You don’t go to the rain, the rain comes to you…And if it keeps coming down on you, you got to learn to swim to the top through the dark clouds, where the sun is shining on that silver lining.”

In her best-loved collection of short stories, Homemade Love, J. California Cooper weaves her distinctive narrative style to tell the stories of men and women searching for love in the face of hard fate and disadvantage. Cooper’s effortless storytelling will attract readers from all walks of life with relatable characters and sage advice.

Homemade Love is a collection of 13 stories narrated by men and women, young and old. Although considered “short,” each story reflects the full breadth of Cooper’s storytelling style, satisfying the reader’s craving for the fulfillment of her characters.

Alice Walker says of Cooper’s work, “Cooper’s 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.”

Home for her characters is in the city and country, North and South, but wherever life takes the characters, home is where family and therefore love usually is. In her introduction Cooper explains, “Many more things, the best things, were all made at home… Homemade goes a long way. Usually lasts longer than we do.”

The first story, “Swimming to the top of the Rain,” illustrates how Cooper crafts her stories about the hardness of fate in a way you can’t help but “chuckle” at. The story is about the lives of three sisters, orphaned at a young age, and their families, struggling to survive. Narrated by the youngest sister, she tells how each of them creates their own family and makes a life. They lose men and children to life and drugs, but they learn that nothing is more important than that special kind of love made at home.

Homemade Love, winner of the American Book Award, was published in 1986 (St. Martin’s Griffin, $14.99). Givens Black Books recommends purchasing Homemade Love or another one of Cooper’s work from African American bookseller Busboys & Poets online at www.bus

Fall 2010 marks the launch of the Givens Foundation’s Givens Black Books Community Reading Campaign, with the goal of increasing access to and engagement in the literary arts in the Twin Cities African American community. This year, the campaign celebrates the work of J. California Cooper, featuring a series of public book group discussions at local libraries and community centers, artist residencies in area schools, and culminating with an event with Ms. Cooper in the spring.

For more information on Cooper and Givens Black Books, or for upcoming public events and to host your own book club, visit

This article was provided by the Givens Foundation for African American Literature.