Celebrating 75 Years

Wayne State University Press

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Know the Mother

Stories by Desiree Cooper

Fiction, African American Studies

Made in Michigan Writers Series

Published: March 2016
ISBN: 9780814341490
Pages: 112 Size: 5.5x8.5
Published: March 2016
ISBN: 9780814341506

While a mother can be defined as a creator, a nurturer, a protector—at the center of each mother is an individual who is attempting to manage her own fears, desires, and responsibilities in different and sometimes unexpected ways. In Know the Mother, author Desiree Cooper explores the complex archetype of the mother in all of her incarnations. In a collage of meditative stories, women—both black and white—find themselves wedged between their own yearnings and their roles as daughters, sisters, grandmothers, and wives.

In this heart-wrenching collection, Cooper reveals that gender and race are often unanticipated interlopers in family life. An anxious mother reflects on her prenatal fantasies of suicide while waiting for her daughter to come home late one night. A lawyer miscarries during a conference call and must proceed as though nothing has happened. On a rare night out with her husband, a new mother tries convincing herself that everything is still the same. A politician’s wife’s thoughts turn to slavery as she contemplates her own escape: "Even Harriet Tubman had realized that freedom wasn’t worth the price of abandoning her family, so she’d come back home. She’d risked it all for love." With her lyrical and carefully crafted prose, Cooper’s stories provide truths without sermon and invite empathy without sentimentality.

Know the Mother explores the intersection of race and gender in vignettes that pull you in and then are gone in an instant. Readers of short fiction will appreciate this deeply felt collection.

A 2015 Kresge Artist Fellow, Desiree Cooper is a former attorney, Pulitzer Prize–nominated journalist, and Detroit community activist. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Callaloo, Detroit Noir, Best African American Fiction 2010, and Tidal Basin Review, among other online and print publications. Cooper was a founding board member of Cave Canem, a national residency for emerging black poets, and she is a Kimbilio fellow, a national residency for African American fiction writers.

Desiree Cooper's Know the Mother is a collection of thirty vignettes that examine how migrations changed the fabric of families and particularly motherhood. Young women had to make their own way – to forge for themselves the demarcation between home and the outside world, what was expected of them, and what goals they had to live up to. Motherhood was no longer cast in the direct shadow of grandmothers, and mothers-in-law, but rather shaped by the social and cultural biases of racism and sexism through which they navigated, seemingly alone. If motherhood was the icing on the cake, she held together what was under that icing. Should the mother remain unchanged, a fixer or a giver commanded merely by her role?

– Colleen J. McElroy, author of Blood Memory

The stories in Know the Mother are like jewels—glittering, finely wrought and worthy of careful appraisal. Here is fiction that examines not only the everyday messiness of living but the painful miracle of birth and the beautiful mystery of death with equal insight. Cooper's elegant, wise, and energetic collection is about what it means to be a woman, a mother, a sister, a wife, a child, and most of all, human.

– Angela Flournoy, author of The Turner House

Each one of these short, short stories is as full of excitement, triumphs, and losses as a movie or novel but as easy to swallow and as satisfying as bonbons. A perfect bedtime accompaniment, Know the Mother is a great gift for friends. Cooper shines a brilliant light on the everyday, on the little things as real, and as unexpected, as the opening of our hearts.

– Toi Derricotte, author of The Undertaker's Daughter and recipient of a Guggenheim and two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships. She is also a chancellor of the Academy of American poets, and the co-founder of Cave Canem, a home for black poetry

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.

– Josh Hakala, Michigan Public Radio -- Stateside with Cynthia Canty

The flash fiction genre fits Cooper’s neat, abbreviated, aesthetic, and feels perfect for mothers who don’t have time for more than a morsel at each sitting, but who want to feel satisfied at the end of each selection. Each piece may hone in on a different topic—gender bias, racism, classicism—but the leitmotif remains womanhood, motherhood, family life.

– Kelly Fordon, Literary Mama

This collection of powerful short stories displays motherhood's hard truths without judgement.

– Anthonia Akitunde, Mater Mea

Desiree Cooper’s Know the Mother is grim, but a necessary antidote to the prevailing simplistic view of motherhood. Cooper is a masterful and descriptive writer. When she describes a "big, fat baby" named Tessie in the story "To The Bone," the reader can almost touch the babe’s fat, brown, dimpled knees. The richness of her prose allows Cooper to capture life’s small moments and render a more fulsome picture of maternity. But the writer truly excels at illustrating emotion and empathy. The reader comes to know the mother by feeling what the mother feels--anxiety, despair, loneliness, irritation, love.

– Tamara Winfrey Harris, Bitch Media

Taken together, Know the Mother is a welcome antidote to the fetishization of motherhood that tends to reach its
obscenely sugar-coated peak in the month of May. Because let’s face it: chocolate and flowers are a wholly inadequate
acknowledgment of the woman you are supposed to be honoring. Possibly the best gift you could give your mother
for Mother’s Day would be to read Desiree Cooper’s book yourself.

– Nicki Leone, Bloom