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Meet Jamie Cooper, 2020 Oregon Literary Fellow

We’re thrilled to introduce the 2020 Oregon Literary Fellowship recipients with individual features on our blog! Out-of-state judges spent several months evaluating the 400+ applications we received, and selected eleven writers and two publishers to receive grants of $3,500 each. For the first time, Literary Arts also awarded two Oregon Literary Career Fellowships of $10,000 each. The 2021 OLF applications will be posted in May 2020, and the deadline to apply will be in August 2020. All of the 2020 Oregon Literary Fellowship recipients will be honored at the 2020 Oregon Book Awards Ceremony.

2020 Oregon Literary Fellowship Recipient
Jamie Cooper (he/him/his)


Jamie Cooper is a 2004 graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop. His work has appeared in TYPOThe Colorado Review, Parthenon West, and elsewhere. He teaches English and writes about the NBA for UPROXX Sports.

Q&A with Literary Arts
What are your sources of inspiration?
I get a lot of inspiration from whatever I’m reading at the moment. I’m always reading something while I’m writing, which can be a little dicey in terms of trying to navigate that line between picking up tools and techniques from other writers without falling into the trap of mirroring their style too much. But in general, reading helps me sort of tune my antennae to the language wavelengths I want to tap into when I sit down to write.

I love going to readings and craft talks when I have a chance. Hearing authors read their work aloud and taking part in that shared experience offers a sense of community that is rare for me, because most of the time I spend with literature is alone in a room with a book, which, don’t get me wrong, is lovely and one of my favorite things to do, but it’s nice to be able to occasionally share that experience with a roomful of likeminded people.

I’ve also been involved with the same writing group for the past couple of years now, and I am extremely blessed to be surrounded by such kind, generous, and talented individuals who not only provide encouragement and support, but are such sharp and perceptive readers and are somehow always able to decipher what I’m trying to accomplish, oftentimes before I even figure it out myself. They’re a constant source of inspiration, and I’m grateful for them.

The other great thing about a writing group is having deadlines. Nothing gets me inspired like a deadline. I think that’s true for most of us. That, along with the fear of public shame. I like knowing that every couple of weeks I have to bring pages that are in reasonably good shape. Give me a deadline, and my fear and ego will take the wheel from there.

How would you describe your creative process?
A lot of my process consists of dreaming up creative ways to avoid actually having to sit down and write. Because writing is hard! To the rest of the world, it probably looks like a lot of sitting around and staring dead-eyed at a screen, which it is, but it’s also very emotionally and psychologically taxing, and there’s a lot of fear and self-doubt wrapped up in it, and it’s easy to give yourself over to that negative feedback loop that’s constantly telling you that you’re not good enough, that nobody is going to care, that you don’t have anything meaningful or worthwhile to say.

The real challenge, at least for me, is figuring out how to let go of some of that self-loathing and self-doubt so that I can simply get into a mental space that actually allows me to put things on paper and not hate it too much. So much of it for me is trying to be kinder and gentler on myself and focusing on the parts that make me happy and figuring out how to dial those things up, while also taking an honest look at the areas that are flat or lifeless and finding little ways to give those a jolt.

Of course, there are also those rare occasions when it feels like you’re mainlining poetry straight from the center of the universe, and you have no idea where any of it is coming from or how or why, but you’re just grateful to be alive and to be a vessel for it. That’s what makes it so addictive and what keeps me coming back, that urge to recapture that feeling and the endless challenge of trying to duplicate the circumstances that led to it. There’s nothing more gratifying than feeling like you’ve really nailed something and that you’ve surprised yourself along the way.  

In terms of mindset, I try to constantly make sure I’m having fun, that I’m approaching it with a playful, inquisitive spirit, but that I’m also probing a little deeper each time, that I’m not shying away from the darker, more shameful parts of our experiences, that I’m willing to go there and occupy that space for a while and see what I can mine from it and what I can transform into something that might resonate with someone.

What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship?
The recognition is obviously very flattering, and it’s genuinely thrilling to be counted among the ranks of so many talented people. Just from a practical standpoint, a lot of writers like myself struggle financially, so in that sense, every little bit helps, and just the fact of earning a little extra income for your work is such a feeling of validation, even if it’s embarrassing to admit that, at least on some level, you secretly crave that type of validation. But the best part, honestly, is knowing that something I wrote was meaningful enough to someone that they wanted to recognize and reward that.

What are you currently working on?
I have a few projects going, all in various stages of completion. One is a chapbook that’s in a different form than I’m used to, so it’s opened all sorts of poetic possibilities that I didn’t previously have access to, for whatever reason. The goal is to have it finished and submitted to a few contests coming up in the very near future.

For my writing group, I’ve been doing mostly flash and short stories, which is both deliriously fun and an intensely humbling experience as I try to learn all the mechanisms of these forms and has given a much deeper appreciation for their practitioners. Beyond that, I have a larger collection that is still in the works and lots of individual pieces that are out there in the world, looking for a home.

What advice do you have for future applicants?
Don’t give up. Rejection can be so demoralizing, if you let it. It’s one of the hardest things about being a writer. You are constantly putting yourself in a position to fail and to be rejected, and it can easily send you spiraling into self-doubt and make you feel like you’re a fraud or that you’re never going to reach the level of success that you’re striving for, etc. etc. You just have to find a way to keep making new work and trust that eventually it will connect with the right person. It’s all so subjective, and it’s not a reflection on your worth as a writer or a person. The worst thing you can probably do is try to give them what you think they’re looking for.

Olympic Curse
I do not recall if ever there was a figure
lingering too long at the threshold of my Slavic homestead
or if at some fateful instant I crossed paths with the custodial engineer
wielding a mop bucket, emptied of the requisite rakes and brooms.I recall pausing to sit quietly for a moment
in anticipation of every journey,
but never with my feet propped up on my provincial table,
I do not recall the gift of knives, the gift of clocks,
or the gift of scarves on Russian holidays,
have always welcomed the arrivals of pigeons and arachnids.
I remained hidden from friends and relatives for 40 days after I was born.
I’ve drunk every ounce of alcohol in my house,
clutched the chilled glass in my palm until the last drop
I drank the last glassful for luck
and raised a lucky toast to my comrades,
I’ve eaten chunks of food off the end of a knife,
I’ve listened to the lucky ringing in my ears,
felt the lucky itch of my eyelids.
I often consider the living waters of the feminine Earth,
its fertile future,
and the purifying fires that burn with the spirits of our ancestors,
and filled with dread I often think about these evil winds.
I’ve burned the effigy of my lesser self,
bathed beneath new moons and thunder.

Originally published: https://bitterzoetmag.com/2018/11/01/olympic-curse-by-jamie-cooper/

Judge’s Comments
“Jamie Cooper’s poems insist on wonder in the face of empire’s uglinesses and so constitute a welcome act of disruption. His poems make room for fabulism as he tells the reader how to convene a prayer circle, recover dreams, construct a family or a child: ‘Most children are made of weather,’ he writes in ‘How-To: Children.’ Cooper’s poems remind us that poetry is the space of the possible.”– Kerri Webster 

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