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Cooper, Dennis (b. 1953)  
 
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One of the most controversial writers working today, Dennis Cooper is best known for his series of strikingly original, critically acclaimed, albeit transgressive and contentious, novels exploring the nature of sexual obsession, alienation, brutality, and death. His works obsessively feature callow but beautiful adolescent boys, predatory older gay men, punk rock music, drug abuse, explicit sex, and graphic violence.

As the critic Catherine Texier has noted, "This is high-risk literature. It takes enormous courage for a writer to explore, as Mr. Cooper does, the extreme boundaries of human behavior and amorality, right to the abyss where desire and lust topple into death."

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"It also takes courage," Texier continued, "not to mention a strong stomach, for the reader to follow the author in his very graphic and unforgiving journey into hell."

Cooper has been praised for his polished, lapidary style, and for fearlessly pushing past the thematic boundaries of contemporary art. His unique narrative voice has been particularly acknowledged by critics for capturing the inarticulate, blunt, yet loosely poetic, language of laconic, drugged-out teenagers.

Guy Mannes-Abbot, writing in the New Statesman and Society, has observed, "[Cooper] knows exactly what he is doing in his fiction, the boundaries he crosses and those he balances on, and his direct, taut prose rarely snags on itself. But it is the audacity of the writing, perfectly mirrored in its subject, that propels Cooper toward the rank of high stylist."

He has also courted controversy and debate for his works' extreme sexual nature, seemingly bordering on pornography, and his alleged fascination with . Cooper himself has even been the recipient of death threats and protests by outraged gay activists.

Drew Linsky, writing in Lambda Book Report, summarized the dissenting critical climate: "Many readers will simply find the [novels'] rewards too scant for all the repellent acts . . . one must endure."

However, as the critic Reed Woodhouse asserts, "Dennis Copper is an intellectual's pornographer. . . . The obscenity in Cooper is ironized, italicized, made into a cold abstraction."

Biography and Early Career

Dennis Cooper was born on January 10, 1953 in Pasadena, California, the son of a wealthy businessman. His parents divorced when he was young.

Cooper has described his family life as a deeply alienating experience: "I had severe problems with my parents. . . . the divorce proceedings took forever, and my parents did not behave well during that period. The fact that parents barely exist in [my] books is probably because I escaped mine as completely as I could beginning in my teenaged years. I crashed at friends' houses a lot, and tried to distance myself from the hell going on in my family home, and, ever since, I've had a very distanced relationship to my family."

At the age of 15, after discovering the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud and the tales and novels of the Marquis de Sade, Cooper "got serious about writing," and produced a thousand-page novel--an imitation of Sade's 120 Days of Sodom, set in high school. He promptly burned the manuscript, however, afraid his mother would find it.

Cooper attended the Flintridge Preparatory School for Boys, a private establishment in La Cañada Flintridge, California, where he became, according to biographer Earl Jackson, Jr., "the leader of a group of outcasts: budding poets, druggies, and punks, who eventually would provide the models for the wayward youths who populate his fiction."

Cooper was expelled from Flintridge in the eleventh grade and graduated from a Los Angeles County public school. Afterward, he attended Pasadena City College for two years and spent another year at Pitzer College, in Claremont, California, where he studied with the poet Bert Meyers, before dropping out of school entirely.

Before he achieved success as a novelist, Cooper was best known as a poet, and his works were celebrated by such writers as Edmund White and Felice Picano. Cooper's first poetry collection, Terror of Earrings, was published in 1973, when he was twenty years old.

In 1976, Cooper founded Little Caesar Magazine and two years later established Little Caesar Press, which he ran until 1982. It was through the Press that Cooper published his second collection of poetry, Tiger Beat (1978), as well as twenty-four other poetry chapbooks, featuring such writers as Gerard Malanga, Tim Dlugos, Joe Brainard, and Eileen Myles.

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