‘You just have to be sure that what you’ve made is you.’ So said the potter, teacher, author, editor, curator and gay rights activist Emmanuel Cooper, speaking towards the end of a life that would offer an embarrassment of riches to any biographer. A boy with ‘sissy’ interests born to a working-class family in a Derbyshire mining village in 1938, who would later earn an OBE for services to the arts, his story is one of class, sexuality, craft, politics and community.
In Making Emmanuel Cooper, an array of passions spanning the professional, political and personal are relayed through a patchwork of Cooper’s writings. It aims to complete autobiographical work cut short by his death in 2012. Unfinished draft chapters are bolstered with entries from diaries, excerpts from interviews and published writings, and letters to his many friends. Edited by Cooper’s long-term partner David Horbury, the book is, in a literal sense, a labour of love.
Horbury is frank about the fact that this book is ‘one of celebration rather than a critical assessment’, and it is on these terms that it should be judged (though there is undoubtedly room for more objective analysis elsewhere). Contributions from Horbury and from Jeffrey Weeks, a friend and fellow member of the Gay Left collective, offer moving descriptions of Cooper’s life and times that contextualise his writing.