The career and achievements of acclaimed author and SMU alumnus Joe Coomer is celebrated in a retrospective exhibition running through Friday, May 24, 2013 in SMU’s DeGolyer Library.
“Joe Coomer: A Life in Letters” explores Coomer’s creative process using handwritten drafts, manuscripts, galleys, letters, first editions, translations and other materials drawn from the literary archive he recently donated to DeGolyer Library.
The gift of more than 20 boxes of materials includes essays and stories, tests, a transcript and other papers from Coomer’s time as an undergraduate in SMU’s creative writing program. He graduated in 1981.
Known for his graceful prose and memorable characters, Coomer has published eight works of fiction, two non-fiction books and one collection of poetry. His writing has been praised by The Boston Globe as “fresh and authentic” and as “compelling” and a “genuine pleasure” by The New York Times.
“Joe Coomer is one of the great voices to emerge from SMU’s English department and creative writing program,” says Russell L. Martin III ’78, ’86, DeGolyer director. “We are honored and delighted to have his papers, where they will join our growing collection of the archives of other contemporary writers. It is also fitting, during SMU’s centennial, that we recognize our own.”
A 30th-anniversary edition of Coomer’s debut novel, The Decatur Road: A Novel of the Appalachian Hill Country, will be published by DeGolyer Library in conjunction with the exhibit. He will sign copies and talk about his work at a reception and lecture Thursday, April 18 as part of the SMU Founders’ Day weekend. The event will begin at 6 p.m. at the library and will be free and open to the public.
First published in 1983, the book won the Jesse A. Jones Award for Best Work of Fiction from the Texas Institute of Arts and Letters in 1984. He started writing the book as an SMU student.
“I wrote three of the short segments for an independent study with Marsh [Terry]. He liked them, so after I graduated, I wrote 55 more,” Coomer says.
Terry ’53, ’54, who retired in 2007 as the E. A. Lilly Professor of English, founded the creative writing program and the SMU Literary Festival and became Coomer’s mentor and friend.
“Joe Coomer transferred into SMU and came to my office in Dallas Hall and asked, ‘Are you the writing teacher?’ I nodded my head and did my best, and Joe turned out to be the leader of our nationally celebrated SMU Literary Festival. John Updike and Raymond Carver heard him read at the festival and were impressed,” Terry recalls.