Coomer, Joe 1958–

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Coomer, Joe 1958–


Born November 3, 1958, in Fort Worth, TX; son of Rufus (a business owner) and Linda (a business owner) Coomer; married Heather Hutton (an antiques dealer and writer), April 5, 1986. Education: Southern Methodist University, B.A., 1981.


Agent—Elaine Markson, Elaine Markson Literary Agency, Inc., 44 Greenwich Ave., New York, NY 10011.


Writer. Owner of antiques malls in Fort Worth, TX, 1986—.


Texas Institute of Letters, Phi Beta Kappa.


Texas Institute of Letters award for fiction and Jesse Jones Award for fiction, both 1983, both for The Decatur Road.



The Decatur Road, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1983.

Kentucky Love, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1985.

A Flatland Fable, Texas Monthly (Austin, TX), 1986.

Dream House: On Building a House by a Pond (nonfiction), Faber and Faber (Boston, MA), 1992.

The Loop, Faber and Faber (Boston, MA), 1993.

Beachcombing for a Shipwrecked God, Graywolf (St. Paul, MN), 1995.

Sailing on a Spoonful of Water (memoir), Picador (New York, NY), 1997.

Apologizing to Dogs, Scribner (New York, NY), 1999.

One Vacant Chair, Graywolf Press (St. Paul, MN), 2003.

Pocketful of Names, Graywolf Press (St. Paul, MN), 2005.


The Loop has been optioned for film.


Joe Coomer's award-winning first novel, The Decatur Road, is set in the Appalachian hills of eastern Kentucky and was described by critic Ivan Gold in the New York Times Book Review as "a gentle story of mountain domesticity." Spanning some six decades, The Decatur Road centers primarily on the enduring relationship of Mitchell and Jenny Parks and their ongoing struggle to survive persistent hard times, with the dusty, twisted road of the title serving as a metaphor for that struggle. Coomer's subsequent novels, Kentucky Love and A Flatland Fable, received favorable reviews and were recommended by critics, who praised their charm and powerful imagery. Kentucky Love, for example, was called a "story [that] charms the reader" by Phoebe-Lou Adams writing in the Atlantic.

In his novel The Loop, Coomer tells the story of Lyman, a Texas highway department employee who drives around the Fort Worth Loop at night aiding motorists and cleaning up road kill. When a parrot invades his trailer, Coomer discovers that the bird has a lot to say. Coomer sets out with the help of cute librarian Fiona to find the bird's owner, convinced that the owner can reveal the meaning of the cryptic messages repeated by the bird. A Publishers Weekly contributor referred to the novel as "deliciously quirky and perceptive," adding that "the denouement both heartens and satisfies."

Beachcombing for a Shipwrecked God presents three women living on a boat in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Each woman deals with a crisis in her life, as Charlotte has in-laws that want to sue her for her son's death, Grace still grieves for—and speaks to—her dead husband, and teenage Chloe has an abusive mate. Referring to the novel as "lovely" in a review in Booklist, George Needham went on to call it "very cinematic." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that the author "evokes the sights, sounds and flavors of New England … in prose that at its best courses with the sonorous majesty of the tides."

Coomer turns to nonfiction with Sailing on a Spoonful of Water, a story about a sixty-year-old boat he buys and names Yonder. The narrative follows Coomer as he falls in love with the boat, learns how to sail it, and then must make a decision whether the costly upkeep is worth it all. John Skow, writing in Time, called the memoir "a quirky, relaxed account, as much family journal as boat biography." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that Sailing on a Spoonful of Water is "a journal filled with much caring and genuine respect."

In his novel Apologizing to Dogs, Coomer recounts the story of twelve antique dealers, all of them running failing stores on the same street in Fort Worth. After decades as neighbors, a mighty thunderstorm approaches in October 1986, and a stray dog named Himself begins a series of events that change the dealers' lives forever. "In a fast-paced and deeply plotted narrative where dogs hold all the secrets, Coomer neatly avoids dogma," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor. Writing in the Library Journal, Karen Bohrer noted: "This delightfully outrageous work will send readers searching for the author's previous books."

One Vacant Chair follows Sarah, who discovers that her husband is cheating on her and, as a result, decides to accompany her Aunt Edna to Scotland to spread the ashes of Sarah's recently deceased grandmother. Although Sarah does not know her aunt well, she soon discovers that Aunt Edna, a lunch lady at a grade school for thirty years, has a lot to say, some of which will change Sarah's life. In a review in the Library Journal, Joanna M. Burkhardt wrote that the author's "story shines with vivid characters in their everyday mode yet offers surprising twists." Joanne Wilkinson, writing in Booklist, noted Coomer's "peppery humor delivered by a most endearing cast of characters."

Coomer writes of a reclusive artist named Hannah Weed in his next novel, Pocketful of Names. Living on a remote island off the Coast of Maine, Hannah's life changes when a dog and then an abused teenager wash up on shore near her house. Through their influence, the solitary Hannah soon finds herself involved in the life of the surrounding community. A longtime successful artist, Hannah also learns who has been buying her art, a discovery that leads to further introspection. Joanne Wilkinson, writing in Booklist, commented that the author "excels at evoking the attractions of solitude versus the meaning of home and connection." A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote: "Coomer demonstrates stylish moves in a reflective story that seems to take place over generations."

Coomer once told CA: "I wake up every morning appalled that things have changed. It's still hard to believe at midday, and by nightfall I've got to write about it. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who's noticed, but that's not so; I tell the same old story, different only in that I've forgotten some of the details and added my own to fill in the gaps. I find great joy in passing the story on."



Coomer, Joe, Sailing on a Spoonful of Water, Picador (New York, NY), 1997.


Atlantic, September, 1985, Phoebe-Lou Adams, review of Kentucky Love, p. 114.

Booklist, April 15, 1995, George Needham, review of Beachcombing for a Shipwrecked God, p. 1478; September 15, 1999, Carolyn Kubisz, review of Apologizing to Dogs, p. 230; September 1, 2003, Joanne Wilkinson, review of One Vacant Chair, p. 53; May 15, 2005, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Pocketful of Names, p. 1634.

Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2003, review of One Vacant Chair, p. 870; April 1, 2005, review of Pocketful of Names, p. 370.

Library Journal, May 1, 1997, Robert F. Greenfield, review of Sailing on a Spoonful of Water, p. 111; September 15, 1999, Nancy Pearl, review of Apologizing to Dogs, p. 111; March 1, 2000, Karen Bohrer, review of Apologizing to Dogs, p. 152; September 15, 2003, Joanna M. Burkhardt, review of One Vacant Chair, p. 90; June 1, 2005, Jim Coan, review of Pocketful of Names, p. 114.

New York Times Book Review, January 8, 1984, Ivan Gold, review of The Decatur Road.

Publishers Weekly, August 31, 1992, review of The Loop, p. 66; April 24, 1995, review of Beachcombing for a Shipwrecked God, p. 61; May 5, 1997, review of Sailing in a Spoonful of Water, p. 185; August 30, 1999, review of Apologizing to Dogs, p. 51; September 15, 2003, review of One Vacant Chair, p. 45; May 16, 2005, review of Pocketful of Names, p. 38.

Time, June 23, 1997, John Skow, review of Sailing in a Spoonful of Water, p. 80.


Internet Movie Database, (December 4, 2006), information on author's film work.