In the eighth century B.C., the blind poet Homer told the epic tale of the hero Odysseus and his long struggle to get home following the Trojan War.
In 2009, Gwen Cooper wrote the true tale of a blind kitten she named Homer. Perhaps not an epic in the historical sense—Odysseus battles Cyclops Polyphemus; Homer catches flies—but the cat of “Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat” is nonetheless a hero.
Homer has been Cooper’s steadfast companion for more than 12 years. He’s seen her through six moves, several relationships and the 9/11 attacks. He’s even saved her life from an intruder.
Cooper talks about her life with Homer, shares passages from “Homer’s Odyssey,” and signs and offers for sale copies of the New York Times bestselling book at Pellissippi State Community College on March 17, 7:30 p.m.
The free event takes place in the Clayton Performing Arts Center on the Pellissippi Campus, 10915 Hardin Valley Road. Anyone who loves an uplifting, well-written story is encouraged to attend.
The author first met Homer when she was single, flat broke and recently heartbroken. Her veterinarian called one day and asked if she would be willing to take in a blind kitten that was about to be put to sleep. Already the owner of two cats, the last thing Cooper wanted was one more. But when she met Homer, it was love at first sight.
“Occasionally, somebody will ask me why I decided to adopt Homer,” said Cooper. “Most people assume it was because he was blind and helpless, because if I hadn’t taken him nobody else would.
“But the truth is, I saw something that day in an eyeless kitten—I saw an innate optimism and happiness, a willingness to greet new people with joy and warmth—that I would never have expected to see in anyone who’d been through the ordeals he had.”
Once she made the decision to bring Homer home, everyone warned her that he would be an “underachiever.” But when her friend (and now husband) Laurence saw him leap 5 feet in the air to catch a fly on his tongue, he pronounced Homer not just a hero but a “superhero.”
Since that time, the 4-pound dynamo has scaled Cooper’s 7-foot-tall bookcases and even scared off an intruder in the middle of the night—a feat, the author says, that saved her life.
But it was Homer’s “unswerving loyalty, his infinite capacity for love, and his joy in the face of all obstacles” that inspired Cooper and transformed her life. She credits him with teaching her optimism, confidence and the necessity of taking chances in her personal life.
Melanie Paradise, Pellissippi State’s registrar, gets the credit for bringing Cooper to Knoxville.
Paradise, herself a cat lover, has rescued and found forever homes for more than 40 cats and has served on the board of the local rescue group Animal Works. So when a coworker offered to lend her a copy of a “very uplifting, must-read” book about a cat, Paradise eagerly took it home.
“I was hooked after the first few pages,” she said.
Since that time, Paradise has become an avid reader of author’s blog and she occasionally sends Homer presents of homegrown catnip. When she saw a promotion for “Win a Visit from Gwen Cooper,” she knew she had to enter.
“I really wanted to do my part in trying to get Homer’s story out and help Gwen sell more books,” said Paradise.
“The fact that she donates 10 percent of her domestic royalties to animal welfare organizations means the more books that sell, the more cats are helped. Of course, I was also thinking how cool it would be to meet Gwen in person, but I never imagined I would win.”
Paradise did win, and she opted to share her good fortune with others.
“My first thought was, What an awesome opportunity for our students to be able to meet a bestselling author! And to include the public would be ideal.”
Cooper’s talk is tied in with the college’s 2010-11 Common Book, “The Geography of Bliss,” by Eric Weiner. The book follows Weiner on a worldwide quest to discover what makes people happy.
“I feel extremely fortunate to have an author of Gwen’s caliber visit and speak,” said Paradise. “Perhaps it will be a catalyst for people to make a positive change, find needed courage, take a blind leap or decide to help animals such as Homer.”
For more information on Cooper’s presentation, contact Pellissippi State’s English Department at (865) 694-6708.