Eleanor photo

Dr. Eleanor M. Cooper

Author • Community Coach • Visioning & Engagement Strategist

This website describes two sides of my life—my writing life and my community work. They both grew at the same time from the same impulse of a desire for change.

 

Eleanor as a U.S. Pavilion guide at Expo 70 escorting Hubert Humphrey around.

Growing up in the South during the Cold War, my world view was startlingly narrow. My first job after college was in Japan. I taught English in a Japanese college and then became a guide at the U.S. Pavilion at the World’s Fair, Expo ’70, in Osaka. Japan turned my world upside down, and ever since that experience at age 21, I have found ways to bring people together across race and cultural divides.

My writing life was sparked at the same time. On my way to Japan, I learned that a member of my family had married a Chinese man and moved to China in the 1930s. At the time I heard about her, China was under Communist rule and was closed to the West. I was stunned by this news and determined that some day I would find her and write her story. Some years later, I held true to my promise and, with her son, wrote Grace: An American Woman in China, 1934-74.

After traveling around the world by myself and working in New York and San Francisco, I discovered that what I loved most was being in community. Returning to Chattanooga, TN, after 17 years away, gave me a unique opportunity--to be involved in the process of change in my own hometown. At the time, Chattanooga was a post-industrial city with a declining economy, deteriorating downtown, and a divided and tense social fabric with barely a glimpse of a different future.

As community liaison for the Moccasin Bend Task Force, I learned the power of engaging the public in creating a wider vision for the city’s future. I served as Vice-President of the Lyndhurst Foundation during the years the foundation promoted the city’s revitalization. I became the Executive Director of Chattanooga Venture, the organization charged with creating a new vision for the city and implementing initiatives. Learn more about my work as a Community Coach here.

Eleanor writing "Grace"

Wanting to understand how and why Chattanooga’s change took root, I entered a doctoral program at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, applying theory to practice. I gained a deeper understanding of the role of public visioning and engagement strategies not only in Chattanooga’s transition but for any community. In 2015 a group from Racine, Wisconsin, an industrial city with a similar history to Chattanooga’s, came to Chattanooga to learn how the city got started on its path to transformation. They asked me to help them in an engagement process that has become Visioning a Greater Racine.

Continuing the themes I began in GRACE, I have completed a novel for young readers. It describes the Japanese occupation of China during World War II from the eyes of a young girl whose father refuses to cooperate with the Japanese and whose mother narrowly escapes internment with the other foreigners. The young girl finds herself in a position to reach across the divided city and save her family at the end of the war. It is a multi-cultural story with a surprising point of view. Read more about Dragonfly Dreams.