Christal Ann Rice Cooper

Christal Ann Rice Cooper
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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Poet Lita Hooper: "THUNDER IN HER VOICE THE NARRATIVE OF SOJOURNER TRUTH"


Christal Cooper – 1,668 Words


The Three Loves of Lita Hooper:
Poetry, Teaching, and Sojourner Truth


         When Lita Hooper, 45, was in the third grade, living in suburbia Chicago, she experienced her first love of poetry.
         “I have a very strong memory of sitting on the front steps and reading a book of poems for children.  Something just connected with poetry for me.”

         Soon reading poetry was not enough for the third grader, and she started writing her own poems in notebooks and hardcover books.
         “My mom would always find these old books and she’d flip to the back and read some little handwritten poems by me.”

         By the time she was in high school, Hooper wrote her first poetry manuscript.  She also proved herself to be academically gifted in writing, especially about poetry, to where her teachers would initiate conversation with her about the art form. 
Her high school friends also would initiate poetry talk with Hooper.
         “Someone would say they were in love with someone or they wanted someone’s attention and they would ask me to write the poem that they would give to the boy or girl.”

After graduating from high school in June of 1986, Hooper decided to major in Communications and attended DePaul University’s north side campus, located in Lincoln Park, which Hooper described as a very dynamic artistic community. 

“I started going to poetry readings and seeing the magic of poetry as a live art as opposed to just poems in a book.  I think that’s the first connection I made in sound poetry.”
         At the time, her career aspiration had nothing to do with poetry or teaching, but in corporate communications. 

         She earned her BA in Communications from DePaul University in June of 1991.

         Her career aspirations changed when she spent a year at the University of Iowa, where she decided to switch majors to African American Studies. 

         “I was always struck and very much in awe in African Americans who stood up against the institution of slavery in whatever way.  My fascination with these amazing people is the daring and the idea that you would put your life at risk for the lives of other people you don’t even know.  Harriet Tubman going back and fourth to rescue slaves and Sojourner Truth who literally walked away from her slave owner and dared the courts to stop her when she tried to get custody of her son.  That kind of audacity is just awesome to me.”

She received a full scholarship to University of Colorado at Boulder, another dynamic artistic community.  While at Boulder she made a major decision.

         “I finally decided to stop trying to find other ways to exist without writing as a primary source of my life and just give in to it.  I switched majors to creative writing, and it made all the difference.”
         Hooper took her very first creative writing class at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and made it her goal to figure out how to be a successful writer.   

She began writing and sending things out for publication.  Her first poem published was “Just Us”, a poem based on a painting by Romare Bearden (http://www.beardenfoundation.org).
“I remember saying, “Oh my gosh.  I got published.”  The guy next to me was checking his (post office) box and said, “congratulations.’”
         She earned her M.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Colorado in Boulder June of 1990.

 She moved to Atlanta, Georgia to get her Doctrine of Arts degree from Clark Atlanta University.   The Doctorate of Arts in Humanities degree is similar to the PhD but combined with teaching.
         “It was the emerging track in the 1980s.  Doctorate of Arts program is pretty rare.  Only a handful of schools offer this degree.  They emphasize a major in English, a foreign language, sociology but you also had to double major in humanities with a strong emphasis on teaching. It allows them to study what they want to study but teaching them how to teach it.”  
Her intention was to have teaching be her secondary career to support her first career of writing, only to discover that writing and teaching were both her primary careers.

         “I’m doing this masters and this doctrine. I’m teaching as well and I’m learning how to teach and loving it and all this time I thought of teaching as (just) a living.  I’m a great teacher and I love teaching and it was just kind of a fluke that I fell in this career as a way to sustain myself as a writer, but I consider myself an educator as well as a writer.”
         She earned her Doctorate of Arts Degree in English with an emphasis on teaching in June of 1999.

Hooper is Associate Professor of English at Georgia Perimeter College, the largest two-year college in the state of Georgia, where she teaches creative writing with an emphasis on poetry.   

         After six years of teaching at Georgia Perimeter College, Hooper and her husband Michael welcomed their baby girl, and named her Sojourner Truth, after Hooper’s heroine whom she admired since she was in elementary school.

“I remember vaguely learning about Sojourner Truth in a black history program around 5th or 6th grade.  Everyone had to say something about an African American.  I didn’t get Sojourner Truth as my person but someone else did.  I remember loving the name Sojourner Truth.”

It was not until her freshman year in African American Studies that she delved deeper into Sojourner Truth’s life and legacy.

Five years later, in 2005, Hooper took a sabbatical to spend time with her children (seven year old son Malik and her five year old daughter Sojourner “Soji”) and to write a collection of poems.
When people learned of five year old Soji’s full name they would exclaim how wonderful it was that she was named after Sojourner Truth.

“She used to get so embarrassed and say, “I don’t get it.”  She knew it was important because of the way people reacted.  I decided to write a collection of poems to let my daughter know and understand why we named her after someone so heroic and iconic.” 

For her research, Hooper reread the Narrative of Sojourner Truth and realized how much she had forgotten.  She also discovered how much she enjoyed the genre of the slave narrative, but found that she had unanswered questions.

“There were so many places where the narrative would say something horrific, and then it would just go on to the next thing.   Why didn’t they stop and discuss this?  Why didn’t she elaborate here and why did she go past this horrific thing?  And every time I would do that I would stop and say, “Okay, what would I say here if I were writing the narrative”.  That’s where I would stop and write the poem and that’s why the book is written in such a way with the narrative on the left side and the poem in response is on the right side.”

         It took Hooper about eighteen months to finish the manuscript.  She would write weekly at the local Starbucks coffee house, sitting in the same place, drinking espresso Octane Coffee, reading the Narrative of Sojourner Truth, and writing the Sojourner Truth persona poems in longhand.

         “I read a little bit of the narrative and every time I hit that point of – I called it gaps – I would allow myself to think about the passage and write a poem in longhand.  Each poem would take several days (to write) of course. I would take some line or phrase or excerpt from the narratives and star the poem off and it would be like a jump off point for me.”

         She made it a point to discuss her writing progress with her family at the dinner table.
         “I would read parts of the work to them and they would bounce ideas and some of the things were so insightful.  Malik would ask me the right questions.  He was a kid at the time and he didn’t know he was helping me think things through.”

         During the 18 month sabbatical Hooper also received an emerging artist grant from the City of Atlanta’s Bureau of Cultural Affairs, and decided to create an artifact that she imagined Sojourner Truth would have –a notebook in long hand of Sojourner Truth’s own thoughts in the form of Hooper’s poems.

         “I had handmade paper commissioned from a woman here in Atlanta and bound it in this beautiful kind of worn leather cover and I stained the handmade paper with coffee grinds from the coffee house that I wrote all the poems.   For the public reading for the grant I had the book on display and I wrote everything out longhand and somebody thought that it was actually Sojourner Truth’s journal and it was amazing.”

         Thunder in Her Voice The Narrative of Sojourner Truth was published by Willow Books (the Poetry Imprint of Aquarius Press) in March of 2010.

         The book is a very slim volume of poetry and tight which is what Hooper intended it to be for the purpose of having someone be able to read it and digest it in one reading and then allowing it to resonate with the reader days later.

         Hooper defines a poet as someone who manipulates language in order to reflect some truth about human kind.  In Thunder In Her Voice The Narrative of Sojourner Truth both Hooper and Truth collaborate together in the form of persona poems in response to the Slave narrative.

         Through this collaboration another poetry collection is formed and the art form is advanced, but more importantly the manipulation of language and the use of the craft help to explain Truth’s, Hooper’s, and the reader’s existence.

         Therefore, we as the readers of this unique volume of poetry, experience the world in a new way, revealing our own aspirations, but more importantly reflecting some truth about human kind that can only be for the good of all who read.

PHOTOGRAPH DESCRIPTION AND COPYRIGHT INFO

Photo 1
Lita Hooper in September of 2010.  Copyright by Lita Hooper.

Photo 2
Briyana.  Copyright by Christal Rice Cooper

Photo 3
Briyana.  Copyright by Christal Rice Cooper.

Photo 4
Lita Hooper.  Copyright by Lita Hooper.

Photo 5
Completed in 1992, Richardson Library faces the Quad in the heart of DePaul University's Lincoln Park Campus.  Attributed to Kris Gallagher.  Multi-license with GFDL and Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-2.5 and older versions (2.0 and 1.0)
http://www.depaul.edu/about/campuses/Pages/lincoln-park.aspx

Photo 6
Aerial Overview of Lincoln Park, looking NNW along North Lake Shore Drive. Passerelle is roughly halfway up, opposite North Avenue Bathing Beach at Middle Right of Frame. - Passerelle in Lincoln Park, spanning North Lake Shore Drive (U.S. Route 41) on axis of East Menomonee Street, Chicago, Cook County, Illinois. (source: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/il0835.photos.318376p/).  This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code.

Photo 7

Photo 8
Retouched portrait of Harriet Tubman in 1885.  Attributed to Artist: H. Seymour Squyer, 1848 - 18 Dec 1905.  Public Domain.

Photo 9
Early image of Sojourner Truth.  Public Domain.

Photo 10
University of Colorado Boulder English Department Logo.  (http://english.colorado.edu)

Photo 11
photo taken by Carl Van Vechten, photographer on April 15, 1944.  Public Domain.

Photo 12.
Clark Atlanta University Seal.  Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law.

Photo 13
Lita Hooper in August 2011.  Copyright by Lita Hooper.

Photo 14
Georgia Perimeter College logo. Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law. 
http://www.gpc.edu

Photo 15
Lita Hooper at Leslie University.  Copyright by Lita Hooper.

Photo 16
Briyana.  Copyright by Christal Rice Cooper.

Photo 17.
Sojourner Truth in 1864.

Photo 18
Original jacket cover of The Narrative of Sojourner Truth.

Photo 19
Lita Hooper’s daughter Soji.  Copyright by Lita Hooper.

Photo 20
Sojourner Truth in 1870.  Public Domain.

Photo 21
Lita Hooper.  Copyright by Lita Hooper.

Photo 22
Lita Hooper in July 2010.  Copyright by Lita Hooper.

Photo 23, 24, and 25
Lita Hooper’s artifact – Copyright by Lita Hooper.

Photo 26
Sojourner Truth.  Public Domain.

Photo 27
Lita Hooper giving a poetry reading of Thunder In Her Voice The Narrative of Sojourner Truth

Photo 28
Jacket cover of Thunder In Her Voice The Narrative of Sojourner Truth.

Photo 29
Willow books logo.  http://willowbooks.com/

Photo 30
Lita Hooper holding Thunder In Her Voice The Narrative of Sojourner Truth.  Copyright by Lita Hooper.

Photo 31
Lita Hooper in December 2012.  Copyright by Lita Hooper. 

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