Martha’s short fiction and personal and literary essays have been published in leading literary magazines and reviews, including A Public Space, AGNI, the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Common, Consequence, The Southampton Review, and numerous others.


AGNI | February 28, 2020

“Without consciously intending to, I wrote my way into an acceptance of mystery, on my characters’ part and on my own; and when the novel was published, I ceded my grandmother’s library to the terrain of uncertainty as well.”

Spoiler Alert: Reading Ferrante’s New Novel in Italian

Los Angeles Review of Books | February 1, 2020

“Because no language works the way we wish it would. Because all speech is silence translated inadequately, even if apparently rendered very well. Because where words are concerned, we often have compunctions.”

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My Novel Centered on the Eliot-Hale Letters. Now, We Can Read Them

Literary Hub | January 14, 2020

“Between the work and the life of a literary artist lies an inscrutable territory of the heart; neither the writer nor the reader can hope to map it.”

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Capturing Natural Coincidences, in Fiction and Life

Literary Hub | October 21, 2019

“Too often in fiction, coincidences feel rigged or purposeless. Yet our lives are studded with them. How then to write convincingly of their appearance and effects?”

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The Mixed Meanings of Missing Girls

Los Angeles Review of Books | December 2, 2018

“There is, of course, power in silence. Whatever one’s gender or sexual identity, keeping one’s own counsel is frequently more fruitful than soliciting aid or comfort from the wrong quarters. But there’s no power in enforced silence.”


The Common |

“Hadn’t there been a moment when, as a girl, she’d sensed something like an impending assault? The drama of adulthood would shortly commence. She’d have to learn roles and speeches; she’d perform badly. There’d be crises, failures, retrenchments. Amidst the mounting disorder, how would she know what to desire, or whom, or even why?”

Mercedes Benz

A Public Space |

The editor of the 2017 O. Henry Prize story collection, Laura Furman, has this to say about Martha’s prize-winning story:

Martha Cooley’s “Mercedes Benz” begins with a car acci­dent and turns into a disquisition on the place of accident in the characters’ lives, and our own. Cooley sets the reader squarely in a mountainous scene before bringing on the car crash: “Huge clouds bloomed and drifted above them. Twisting below, the wide rocky riverbed of the Taro was intermittently visible, lit­tle streams emptying into it: Erbetello, dei Cani, Pizzarotta. Descending, the streams cut stony runnels that zigzagged errati­cally downward, as though someone had scored the earth with a huge sharp stick.” Here is nature in its orderliness; water falls from the Apennines and carves a downward path that’s com­pared to a casual violence. Water through rock also reminds the reader of time, of which the characters might not have a sufficiency. Theirs is a second marriage for each, and a happy one. They’re in the husband’s native Italy, having used all their money for the purchase and renovation of a house in an almost deserted village. The region is emptied of people in their prime and their children, all of whom live in the cities and return only for holidays. The title of the story refers to the wife’s newfound interest in fancy cars. She and her husband drive a hand-me-down Golf, but she finds herself looking at Mercedes and Porsches with uncharacteristic interest. This too relates to the accidental: lux­ury sedans, she thinks, “offer their owners an illusion of safety, neatly packaged as exclusivity.” The same thing, of course, can be said about marriage. In its beneficent ending, Cooley’s story moves past the car accident toward acceptance of the accidental.