SOUTH ORANGE, NJ -- A father’s life is thrown into turmoil after he discovers his dead son still exists as a ghost. A sheriff is confronted with the gruesome reality of a murder-suicide perpetrated by a friend.
These are just some of the creations of award-winning author Christopher Coake. With a novel and a short-story collection already under his belt, Coake is considered a rising new literary talent, and the South Orange community will have an opportunity to meet him.
Coake will read from his work at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 6 at Seton Hall University as part of the university’s Poetry-in-the-Round reading series. The event, which is free and open to the public, will be held in the Dean’s Suite in Walsh Library. In addition to reading, Coake also be will signing books and answer questions from the audience.
Coake said he is particularly looking forward to visiting Seton Hall since he rooted for the university in one of the first NCAA tournaments he watched. He also said he relishes every book reading as an opportunity to hear from his readers, whose feedback on previous works helps him as he writes new stories. He appreciates the chance to simply interact with his supporters.
“It’s been really gratifying to actually go and meet strangers who have read my stories and want to talk to me about them,” Coake said. “Plus I get to say ‘thank you.’ Very few people buy books anymore, and if somebody wants to come to a reading in a place that I’ve never lived and buy a copy of my book and get me to sign it, I want to shake his hand and say ‘hey, thanks.’”
Being a writer is a dream come true for Coake, who was voted “Most Likely to Become Stephen King” in his high school yearbook. He even recalls dictating stories to his mother when he was only 5 years old, tales he would later illustrate and staple together to create his own storybooks.
“It means everything,” he said, referring to his writing. “It’s the only lifestyle I’ve ever wanted. It’s the only thing I’ve ever really practiced very hard at doing. And it’s the only artistic outlet I’ve ever found that I can see through to the end… Writing is something where I can say things to people and have them respond. That’s always been important to me.”
While his stories touch upon a range of genres, Coake said he is most interested in writing about grief, trauma and love. Following the death of his first wife due to cancer and a childhood he says “wasn’t particularly safe,” Coake uses his personal insight into those themes as inspiration for his stories.
“I’ve always been drawn towards darker stuff,” he said. “Particularly after my wife passed, I wanted to write about people who were where I was – where the world had smacked them on the back of their heads as hard as it could. You still have to move on and live after that, so what are you going to do? Those were the things I wanted to explore and put to plot.”
When he’s not writing, Coake teaches English at the University of Nevada, a job he’s done for the past eight years. Though it is sometimes a struggle to find time to write and teach, Coake said he feels fortunate to have a profession that pays him to do both. He said that teaching writing to others even helps his own work as he applies what lessons he taught in class to his own writing process.
As an acclaimed novelist and a professor, Coake is an ideal source of advice for future authors. He also promises people who go to his book reading will enjoy themselves.
“If anyone is an aspiring writer or a really good reader, I think it’s always useful to come and talk to the people who make the stuff and put it into the world,” Coake said. “It should be a good time – I don’t think I’m boring. I’ll try to tell a couple of bad jokes… So there’s entertainment value.”
The reporter is participating in a hyperlocal journalism partnership between The Alternative Press and Seton Hall University's Department of Communication & The Arts.