She writes the songs and now the novel

By Valerie Victor

LaForrest “La La” Cope, an adjunct English professor at York and Queens colleges, has written songs and produced music for such A-list entertainers as Whitney Houston, Lauryn Hill and Christina Aguilera.

Now Cope has added novelist to her resumé with the completion of her first book, “Soul Shaker.”

Her novel, though fictional, is based on true events, and focuses on issues facing women in the music industry.

“I had a recurring dream about performing songs, and ironically the person in the dream besides myself would be the late Whitney Houston,” said the Grammy Award-winning composer, who wrote “You Give Good Love” for Houston. “When I decided to start a family, I took those dreams and went back to Queens College. It was there that I began writing short stories that eventually turned into this novel.”

At Queens College, “Soul Shaker” was originally a thesis that earned Cope her MFA in creative writing and literary translation.

Recently, Cope read excerpts of her novel in the faculty dinning room to students and faculty on the York College campus. She sang with a drummer playing to her every word and breath.

“She is a master teacher, but independent of that, she is an enormous talent,” York College English professor Patricia Milanes said. “Her reading, her delivery, her prose which sings accompanied by a percussionist with just the right touch, it’s transformative.”

Cope’s novel focuses on the idea that the music industry objectifies women by telling the tale of the main character “Coco” trying to make it in the business.

“It is important to understand the path that this fictional character has to go through,” Cope said.

With the help of her thesis adviser and mentor, Jeffery Renard Allen, Cope is shopping the manuscript to publishing houses.

The book will be available for purchase later this year on Amazon and there is a possibility the novel will be made into an audio book, according to Cope.

Apart from writing her new novel, Cope performs at a number of venues around the city.

She, along with bandleader Freddy Dugard, have regular gigs at Sangria’s Restaurant in Jamaica.

In late January, she played BAM Café in Brooklyn, where she was accompanied by jazz pianist Onaje Allen Gumbs.

“She has a wonderful voice,” Rapheal Gibbs, a Brooklyn-based music producer, said. “She knows how to engage with the crowd and she has a great stage presence.”

Cope also knows how to engage with up-and-coming musical talents when she works as a vocal coach and producer behind the scenes. She assists singers who struggle with their voices gain confidence and build their skills.

“Nothing pleases me more than to share what I’ve learned,” Cope said.

For more information on Cope’s coaching, visit her website at www.laforrestcope.com.

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