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  • The Future Has a Past
  • Written by J. California Cooper
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  • The Future Has a Past
  • Written by J. California Cooper
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780307428646
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Stories

Written by J. California CooperAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by J. California Cooper

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List Price: $9.99

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On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 288 | ISBN: 978-0-307-42864-6
Published by : Anchor Knopf
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ABOUT THE BOOK ABOUT THE BOOK
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ABOUT THE AUTHOR
PRAISE PRAISE
READER'S GUIDE READER'S GUIDE
Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

From the beloved author of Family and A Piece of Mine comes a dazzling new collection of stories featuring ordinary women who discover that love sometimes comes when you least expect it.

Vinnie is an overworked and self-sacrificing single mother who gets a second chance at love and independence, in "The Eagle Flies." In "A Shooting Star" a happily married mother of two laments the fate of her beautiful friend Lorene, whose naivete about desire has deadly consequences. In "A Filet of Soul," Luella's luck soon changes when her mother leaves her a modest inheritance, but not as soon as she initially imagines. And in "The Lost and Found," Irene confronts her womanizing boyfriend with the one piece of information that will bring him to his knees. Bursting with earthy wisdom and humor, these warmly engaging tales are a testament to Cooper's gifts as a storyteller.

Excerpt










A Shooting Star
Now, you don't know me. And, I know that you know that nobody knows everything. But a person does have to go by whatever they do know and every new thing they can learn, to make any good sense out of life. They say love makes the world go round, and I believe that. But, it seems to me, and I already told you I don't know everything, that nowadays sex is making the world go round.
There's another sayin, "What goes round, comes round." Well, I know that sometime what went around comes back around a whole lot different and bigger and worser than what you sent round in the first place.
You got to watch life, cause it's moving all the time, every minute! You have to look all around yourself and see what's happening to you and everybody else. Try to get some understanding of it. But, I notice, some people look at things in their life and never do understand.
I grew up in a fair-size town that had a little of everything in it, I guess. In small communities you just know everybody cause you go to school with em and you usually know their parents cause you know their kids.
You know how growin children talk by the time they get to junior high school; half of the day is spent on gossip, some innocent and some not so innocent. That's when I started payin attention to Lorene. She was one of our classmates and a main subject to talk about.
Lorene's full name was Heleva Lorene Shaky. Her father named her "Heleva" (I don't know how he came up with that name) and her mother put in "Lorene" and that's what everyone called her, til they were mad at her or something; then they would say "Heleva!" like that, for awhile.
Lorene's mother is a real nice, smiling lady from this town and her father was from somewhere in Washington, D.C. Somehow they met somewhere and he traveled back and forth til they finally got married.
Lorene grew up in a nice house and they seemed to be a regular happy family like most other people round here, but what do I know? Her father, Mr. Shaky, was often gone, on business, back to Washington D.C., and her mother was alone a lot so she attended them teas and church socials and some women's clubs. Nice people.
I came to know them pretty well cause my family was kinda poor and sometimes when I didn't have lunch or lunch money Lorene would take me home with her and her mother would have a nice sandwich and a glass of milk for us. Mrs. Shaky, her mother, always was able to put love in everything she did for Lorene and, in her sandwiches and cookies, included me.
Lorene was a very kind and generous person. I mean, even kind to strangers and anybody. She would make friends with a person in a minute. Her mother was always telling her bout things like that; taking up with strangers, I mean. But Lorene would just smile that friendly smile of hers and keep on being herself.
Lorene wasn't a beautiful girl, but that smile of hers just made her so beautiful like. Just lighted up everything around her and she always seemed to be happy. She knew, at a early age, just how to fool with her hair and make up new styles for herself. Her mother didn't let her wear make-up or nothing, but Lorene didn't mind that either; she could just put that smile on her face and that was enough. She always dressed nice. Clean, too. She made good grades and didn't even have to study hard to do it.
I wasn't always real close to her as a friend because she had so many friends, but they was mostly boys. I always liked her though, but as you grow up you can grow away from some people and still like em.
Now, I don't want to say this, but I have to say it so you will understand Lorene. She was the kind of a girl who was so glad to have a vagina she didn't know what to do. She wanted them boys either to smell it, touch it, look at it, feel it, just anything as long as you did something to it. The boys said she would just be smiling, happy all the time. So . . . she was sorta the object of the gossip of us girls and the object of attention of the boys, a lot.
I can see her now; standing in the schoolyard in her white and brown saddle oxford shoes, a plaid pleated skirt and a white blouse. Smiling. With boys always somewhere near. She was wearing perfume round that time and puttin on a little light lipstick, too.
Well, I still liked her and sometimes I needed that sandwich at lunch cause my family was still doing poorly, but I couldn't stay close, close friends anymore because she was so . . . conspicuous. Anyway, my mama had heard of some of Lorene's doings and told me to just separate myself from her. My mama may have been poor, but she was very strict. And tired too. She and my daddy worked hard; I had four brothers and sisters. Their jobs didn't pay much.
Now, that made me kind of mad at the girls who were always dogging her and even telling their mamas about Lorene. (That's how my mama found out about Lorene and what she was doing with the boys.) Then I had to miss out on a good friend and a good meal when I was hungry . . . because of them! And who knew what these gossiping girls were doing behind trees and walls?
Lorene found another girlfriend though, Carla, who wasn't just like Lorene in her ways, but did let a boy or two go all the way. But not everybody! When we graduated junior high school Carla was at home having a baby. She came back to high school and left the baby at home with her mother or somebody. Anyway, Lorene and Carla had started having sex with boys when they were about twelve or thirteen, so I heard the boys told, cause the boys always tell.
J. California Cooper

About J. California Cooper

J. California Cooper - The Future Has a Past

Photo © Ellen Banner

J. California Cooper is the author of several novels, including, most recently, Some People, Some Other Place, and six collections of stories. She was honored as Black Playwright of the Year, and has received the American Book Award, the James Baldwin Writing Award, and the Literary Lion Award from the American Library Association. She lives in California.
Praise

Praise

"A wonderful blend of spirited characters and energetic writing."
--Essence

"It's the universality of her themes that has made Ms, Cooper's work popular."
--The Dallas Morning News

"[A]nother great work by a truly compassionate traditionalist. Cooper offers her readers great pleasure."
--Quarterly Black Review of Books
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions

About the Book

In her acclaimed novels and short stories, J. California Cooper portrays the lives of African Americans, bringing to light the impact of history, social and economic hardship, and enduring cultural strengths on the experiences of individuals and families. The questions, discussion topics, suggested reading list, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your group's discussion of her works, which range across time and place but share the passion, humor, and wisdom that mark J. California Cooper as one of the most original and engaging storytellers of our time.

About the Guide

From her first collection of short stories, A Piece of Mine, to the recently published The Future Has a Past, J. California Cooper has introduced an appealing and diverse cast of characters struggling to make the right choices and find happiness in a society that prefers light skin over dark, money over spirit. The central characters are often women entangled in a tradition of oppression and the inescapable traps of racism, sexism, and poverty. Many of the stories are narrated in the first-person, capturing the cadences of ordinary conversations and lending the stories the intimacy and resonance of gossip shared among friends. They are alive with wry observations on the human tendency toward foolish choices and impetuous behavior, a rich understanding of the small comforts that provide respite from big struggles, and a wisdom based on faith in God and in humankind's potential for goodness.

About the Author

J. California Cooper is the author of five collections of short stories, three novels, and seventeen plays. She was named Black Playwright of the Year in 1978 for Strangers, won an American Book Award for Home-made Love, a collection of stories, and received the James Baldwin Writing Award and the Literary Lion Award from the American Library Association. She lives in northern California.

Discussion Guides

1. Most of Cooper's stories focus on the challenges that beset women living in desperate circumstances. How does she give these stories a universal resonance, making them appealing to a variety of readers?

2. The search for love is a common theme in the stories. In addition to the romantic relationships between men and women, what other forms of love does Cooper explore?

3. To what extent are Cooper's protagonists role models? Do you think that the stories are meant to convey certain moral or ethical values?

4. In what ways do the stories in The Future Has a Past differ from those in the earlier books? Do the problems--and the dreams--of the characters reflect changes in our society? Why or why not?

5. What do Cooper's novels share with other books, both fiction and nonfiction, that you have read about the Civil War period? Do her descriptions of the relationships between African Americans and whites before and immediately following the war differ from your previous impressions or beliefs? In what ways does Cooper challenge the traditional depiction of the boundaries between slave and master, black and white? Which characters or relationships do you find particularly surprising? Are the white characters as fully developed as the African Americans are?

6. Cooper touches on a wide range of social, economic, and political issues in her writing, including the historical divisions between races and classes; interracial relationships; the significance of complexion in society in general and within the African American community specifically; and the importance of education. What techniques does she use to incorporate these subjects without disrupting the flow of the stories? In what ways can fiction be more effective than nonfiction in revealing the forces that shape our world?

7. In describing Cooper's writing, Alice Walker said, "Her 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." How do these traits mirror classic forms of storytelling, from myths and Biblical parables to the folk stories passed down through oral traditions? Why do you think Cooper may have chosen to use these timeless techniques to tell her stories?


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