NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – Smith College awarded a $23,000 grant to new alumna Emily Cook to enable her to write a book on race relations in the San Francisco Bay area during the early 1990s.

Cook is the third recipient of the college’s Helen Gurley Brown Magic Grant program, which helps Smith’s Ada Comstock Scholars or recent graduates reach their highest potential by underwriting expenses associated with internships, independent research and travel, creative and artistic projects. Cook graduated from Smith in 2011.

Cook, of Minneapolis, Minn., is basing her book on the racial tension that erupted around a nightclub owned and operated by her mother for 10 years, ending in 1992, in Alameda, a small island off the coast of Oakland, Calif.

The club, called Johnny’s Cocktail Lounge, refused to comply with a city ban on rap music in the early 1990s, sparking protests and riots and, eventually, a lawsuit against the municipality brought by her parents and backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, says Cook.

Cook, who was 13 years old at the time of the trial, wrote her eighth-grade term paper about the event, based on interviews with her parents’ lawyer, and her experiences at the trial and several meetings of the Black Panthers. Later, as a Smith student, Cook wrote about the subject again.

“This is the story I was meant to write,” says Cook, who has gone through her mother’s business records and the press clippings, court documents and transcripts from that time. “I’ve done the percolating and the historical research that this book needs. Now I need to do the reporting.”

Cook enrolled at Smith as an Ada Comstock Scholar—a nontraditional-aged student—after working in the literary world for 15 years. She served as director of marketing and publicity, handling book manuscripts and reviewing books for a publishing house.  When she returned to college, Cook majored in American studies.

Although she never attended Smith, legendary Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown has long expressed an affinity for the college’s commitment to educating women with diverse life experiences. Her papers are part of the college’s Sophia Smith Collection of women’s history manuscripts. Brown was recently made an honorary member of the Smith College Class of 1962, in recognition of the publication that year of her groundbreaking book “Sex and the Single Girl.”

Smith College educates women of promise for lives of distinction. One of the largest women’s colleges in the United States, Smith enrolls 2,800 students from nearly every state and 62 other countries.

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Kristen Cole
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