Writer and Playwright

Gemma’s poetry book We Might As Well Be Underwater was published by Unsolicited Press. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in more than forty journals; she is a many-time Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee. Published chapbooks include Too Much Like a Landscape (2015, with Warren Tales) and “Bedside Manner” (The Head and the Hand, 2020). Gemma’s plays have been produced in Syracuse, Chicago, Boston, and New York. She was a runner-up for the 2016 James Jones First Novel Fellowship, and has been awarded artist’s residencies from Catalonia to Virginia and a grant from the Barbara Deming Fund.

As a playwright, most recently, Gemma was commissioned to write Come Like Shadows, an alternate queer exploration of the early life of Lady Macbeth, for Breadcrumbs Productions, Syracuse, NY. (2022). She was the resident playwright with The Theater Offensive’s Creative Action Crew (2015-2016), generating the new plays Reporting Live from Under the Rainbow and Through the Glory Hole and What We Found There based on the work of a queer youth ensemble. Once I Was a Kingdom was presented on Zoom for the Women+ in Theatre Conference (2020). Recent workshops include Break (About Face Theatre, Chicago, IL, 2018), This Not That (The Depot for New Play Readings, Hampton, CT), and You Want Them to Look Away (Breadcrumbs Productions, Syracuse, NY, 2020). The Dating Game was performed in New York and Boston in 2015. Her light opera adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, co-written with Joshua Tyra, has been workshopped at colleges in New York and Chicago. Her play Blindside was produced in Chicago in 2008. She is a member of both Honor Roll! and the Dramatists Guild of America.

See more of my plays on the New Play Exchange.


Honors and Awards

Publications: Poetry

Publications: Fiction

  • “Mission Accomplished,” Bridport Prize Anthology (Highly Commended) (2021)
  • Skin in the Game,” Breakwater Review (fiction contest finalist, Best of the Net nomination) (2018)
  • “Devil’s Thumb,”  Santa Fe Writers Project (2014)
  • “Mars” (from Go Home Faster), Elsewhere (2014)
  • Home Repair” (from Go Home Faster), Printer’s Devil Review (2013)

Produced Plays

  • Come Like Shadows (commissioned work), Breadcrumbs Productions Syracuse, NY (2022 & 2023)
  • This Not That, workshopped at the Depot for New Play Readings,  Hampton, CT (2021)
  • Once I Was a Kingdom,  Zoom performance for Women+ in Theatre Conference, Howard Community College, Columbia, MD (2020)
  • You Want Them to Look Away, workshopped at Breadcrumbs Productions’ Scratch Series, Syracuse, NY (2020)
  • Break, workshopped at About Face Theatre, Chicago, IL (2018)
  • Through the Glory Hole and What We Found There (commissioned work), The Theater Offensive’s Creative Action Crew/True Colors Out Youth Theater (2016)
  • Reporting Live from Under the Rainbow (commissioned work), The Theater Offensive’s Creative Action Crew / True Colors Out Youth Theater (2015)         
  • The Dating Game, SLAM Boston, Open Theater Project, Boston, MA (2015)          
  • Watch, One Acts and Snacks, read at Casa de Beverley, New York, NY (2015)
  • Sense and Sensibility: A Comic Opera (librettist/lyricist, with composer/lyricist Joshua Tyra), workshopped at Trinity International University, Deerfield, IL (2012); excerpts workshopped at “Inspired by Austen” Conference, Manhattanville College, White Plains, NY (2010)
  • Blindside, produced by Stockyards Theatre Project, Chicago, IL (2008); workshopped at Stage Left Theatre, Chicago, IL (2005)
  • Chicago Chronicle #1 (co-author), American Theatre Company, Chicago, IL (2008)
  • The Book of Esther, Anshe Emet Synagogue, Chicago, IL (2007–08)
  • Set (co-author), workshopped in Stockyards Theatre Project’s Play for Keeps (2006)
  • I’m Coming In Soon, produced by Young Playwrights, Inc., New York, NY (2000)

What strikes me in particular about Cooper-Novack’s work is the way in which a compressed narrative seems to inflate into a miniature world as the poem unfolds. She has the capacity for creating not just astonishing images but for aerating them with a context that makes them literally ventilate this reader’s imagination.


writer and writing teacher

It's the same in every war: soldiers disoriented by alien cultures commit deeds unthinkable in their own, and afterward face well-meaning families unable to comprehend their experience. This time, however, the returning veteran is a woman--a wife, sister, and mother-to-be whose homecoming is shattered when evidence comes to light of her participation in atrocities overseas. But playwright Gemma Cooper-Novack's articulate exploration of the issues doesn't seek convenient targets for blame, nor does the Stockyards Theatre Project stoop to sensationalism in its presentation. Instead, both strive to remind audiences that conflict in faraway lands is not without its repercussions right here at home.

Mary Shen Barnidge

Chicago Reader

Gemma Cooper-Novack … wrote the astonishingly accomplished, low-key one-act drama [I’m Coming In Soon] that … is head and shoulders the best, most mature—also most moving—of the four works by young playwrights.

Jerry Tallmer

The Villager

Compassion, a perhaps underrated subject in contemporary lyrical poetry, gets a rollickingly twisted treatment in Cooper-Novack’s deft and slippery hands.


writer and writing teacher

The thought-provoking script clearly illustrates how the level of violence in war affects all of us long after the actual events. Blindside explores the lives of each family member, their relationship to each other, and shows how intricately woven their individual experiences are.

Joette Waters

Chi-Town Daily News

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