All the Sweet Spots

New faculty member T Cooper explores family, history, and the lifelong process of becoming oneself

T Cooper
Courtesy of T Cooper

There is versatility of the lower order (walking and chewing gum at the same time) and of the higher order.

In the latter camp is T Cooper, who joins Emory as an assistant professor of English and creative writing this fall. Consider the range of his writing within a sixteen-year period.

Cooper’s breakout work was Some of the Parts (2002), a novel about family—“the ones we’re born into and the ones we create”—which earned him status as a Barnes and Noble Great New Writer. Time Out New York said that it was “the kind of story Anne Tyler might write if she hung out with transgender freak show artists and HIV-positive gay men.”

Then, Cooper and coeditor Adam Mansbach created A Fictional History of the United States with Huge Chunks Missing (2006), which challenges received history. According to the coeditors, “These are stories that take up the . . . challenge of speaking for the voiceless—who all too often are voiceless because somebody who will later be made into a statute is standing on their necks.”

Also in 2006, Cooper wrote Lipshitz 6 or Two Angry Blondes, which continued his exploration of family; Cooper terms it “the only known novel (in any language) about Russian immigrant Jews, the aviator Charles Lindberg, and an Eminem impersonator who performs on the NYC bar mitzvah circuit.”

The book received favorable notice from the New York Times and Washington Post as well as fiction-world heavyweight David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas).

Next, Cooper vaulted to the graphic novel with The Beaufort Diaries (2010)—the in-some-ways-improbable, in-other-ways all-too-predictable tale of Beaufort, the polar bear who takes LA and then New York City by storm.

Out hunting with his mother when an ice floe cracks and separates them, Beaufort decides to head to Los Angeles. It’s a sweet story about finding one’s identity. Just after arriving, Beaufort comments: “I figured I stuck out like a penguin in the Arctic, but there were hundreds of creatures of all shapes, sizes, languages, and persuasions in Hollywood. Hell, I was the one who looked normal! Padding down the boulevard with stars literally under my paws, it hit me: I’d found home.”

Well, not quite. For Beaufort, the ups (making “a psychological thriller-slash-legal drama-slash-buddy flick about global warming” with Leonardo DiCaprio) and downs (Nicole Kidman picking Bigfoot instead of Beaufort for her next film) of being hot, and then not, ensue. Eventually, he moves to New York City, where things spiral farther downward and finally up, at least as far as psychological closure, when his father tracks him down and shares a note from his mother.

“She wanted me to know she’d only sent me away because she couldn’t feed me anymore. Couldn’t even feed herself. She drowned between ice floes the day after we were separated.”

That’s as serious as a heart attack, but the honesty keeps coming. On the last page, Beaufort confesses, “I knew the whole time I was telling this story that it was a cover for the real story, which for some reason I still find impossible to tell.”

Starting in 2014, Cooper came out with the Changers series, written in conjunction with his wife, Allison Glock-Cooper. The series is about characters who live out their high school years as someone new, often with a different gender. As Cooper and his wife raise their daughters, he says that they have done so “with a recognition that change is okay and not to be feared—that identities can shift and evolve, and that becoming ‘who we are’ is a lifelong process.”

And then there’s Man Made—a documentary Cooper directed, produced, filmed, and cowrote. It follows four transgender men as they prepare to compete at the world’s only trans bodybuilding competition in Atlanta. Man Made won Best Documentary at this year’s Atlanta Film Festival as well as Best Feature Documentary and the Fox Inclusion Feature Film Award at the Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ Film Festival. Queerty says of the film, it “shares the stories of its subjects as they grow into something awesome: themselves.”

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