Talk Like Jazz

Joseph Cooper pages through his new book, "Talk Like Jazz," an incredibly honest coming-of-age story about growing up with a speech impediment and many other obstacles.

BLUEFIELD — "You do not overcome. You compromise in some ways, an attempt to overcome them but it is an endless battle, like anything, it is a climb."

Joseph Cooper has battled a speech impediment for his entire life. He has published a book of autobiographical fiction on the topic called, "Talk Like Jazz."

Cooper said the book is based on his life experiences and a coming of age story about a turbulent adolescent period. The book is about saying what often goes unsaid, which was important to Cooper.

"The adolescence of this book was about struggling with a speech impediment and overcoming," Cooper said. "There was one point where I could not string two words together at all, I was just incapable of speaking so this book kind of travels along with the onset of the speech impediment up until it becomes empowerment more than the struggle itself."

This is not Cooper's first published book. He has published four poetry books and has been writing since he was about 10 years old. Since he is almost 40, he joked that he has spent almost 30 years on this book.

"This book, I conceptualized the process of this book for a few years and it took me three or four months to get it out so the entire experience was probably three years," Cooper said. "It is not always a constant. You can say three years but maybe you look at it for a month and then you have a month or two thinking about it and then you come back to it and I think all together about three years."

With the fascinating subject matter and a frank look at adolescence, Cooper weaves the struggle of speech into the fabric of the book.

"It is important to note that it is written in vignettes so the book is broken into little pieces and as you look, every section you just have little pieces here and there, you will never be lingering long on a singular moment," Cooper said. "I think the importance of it is the fractions of thought, the fact that the speech itself is always severed and broken so the stories themselves are never incredibly complete because the ability to speak is never really complete."

The stories told in "Talk Like Jazz" personify the way Cooper thinks and his struggle for speech. He said the stories seem to begin and end in the middle and there is never a beginning or end to the stories. "You just get these little snapshots of a life which was important for me to explore," Cooper said.

"I do not think you ever really overcome a speech impediment, it is something that I still struggle with," Cooper said. "It is a never-ending process and I think mostly what you have to do, at least for me in my years of working through this is just learning what your shortcomings are and trying your best to navigate those to your best ability."

As far as the title, Cooper associates Jazz music with his speech impediment. Jazz moves from one beat to the next without having any obvious consistency.

"If someone hears Jazz that is not familiar with it just sounds like chaos and that is kind of how the speech itself came about as well," Cooper said. "If you were to hear me at that age it just sounded like chaos and nobody really knew how to handle what that was and there was fear behind that and uncertainty."

The design of "Talk Like Jazz" is a continuation of the writing style that will bring the reader into the piece with another sense: sight.

The cover of the book is a photograph of Cooper, taken at a young age by a gentleman who is a character in the book. The man was a neighbor of Cooper's family while he was growing up and the photo was taken with an "old school camera" that Cooper thought was "a really neat thing."

The inside formatting is also meant to represent the author's struggle with stuttering. The stories are shorter and sometimes take up a page or two before moving on to the next.

Cooper pointed out the dedication of the book, "to all those who seek relief from the burden of stuttering." He said it was important for him to recognize because, at the end of the book, the character does attend speech therapy class and has the opportunity to experience groups of people with the same impediment that he has.

"Noting pariahs of society, anyone who feels on the outside of the inside, as it were, feels like a pariah and got to experience all of these people but then you have the realization that all of these people, while on the outside still live very often on the inside and are not so strange as you thought you were," Cooper said.

However, the book is not just meant for those who struggle with a speech impediment. Cooper thinks one of the messages of the book is that everyone has battles to fight in their own lives.

"It might not be a speech impediment but maybe you have a limp or whatever the case may be, everyone has an impediment and this book is about trying to reveal that impediment because I think the longer we go on hiding those, the more they compromise our own existence, so if you just put that in the front and say this is who I am, I think it is easier to exist within your own struggles," Cooper said.

Cooper, a Buffalo, N.Y. native spent nine years as a teacher at a collegiate level in New York, Colorado and West Virginia. Currently, Cooper is a stay-at-home dad to his and his wife, Emily Boothe's two children, Hattie, 4 and Henry, 6.

"Talk Like Jazz" is available on Amazon, through the publisher, Weasel Press and from Cooper himself.

— Contact Emily Rice at erice@bdtonline.com and follow her on Twitter @BDTrice