Monday, November 25, 2013

L.A.'s unofficial poet laureate, Wanda Coleman dies

I've never even heard of Wanda Coleman until I read an article about her in the Los Angeles Times titled Wanda Coleman dies at 67; Watts native, L.A.'s unofficial poet laureate by Elaine Woo.

In her article, Woo wrote the following about Wanda Coleman:
A native of Watts who long was regarded as L.A.'s unofficial poet laureate, Coleman died Friday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center after a long illness, said her husband, poet Austin Straus. She was 67.

During four decades as a force on the Los Angeles poetry scene, Coleman wrote more than 20 books, including novels and collections of short stories and essays.

She was most eloquent in poems, illuminating the ironies and despair in a poor black woman's daily struggle for dignity but also writing tenderly and with humor about identity, tangled love, California winters and her working-class parents.

"She wrote not just about the black experience in Los Angeles but the whole configuration of Los Angeles in terms of its politics, its social life," said Richard Modiano, executive director of Beyond Baroque, the Venice literary center where Coleman gave powerful readings. "I would call her a world-class poet. The range of her poetry and the voice she writes in is accessible to all sorts of people."

Among Coleman's best-known works was "Bathwater Wine" (1998), which brought her the Lenore Marshall National Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets in 1999. Her next volume, "Mercurochrome" (2001), was a finalist for the National Book Award, whose judges said, "Coleman's poetry stings, stains and ultimately helps heal wounds" of racial injustice and gender inequality.
I'm curious enough about Wanda Coleman's writing after reading Elaine Woo's article in the Los Angeles Times to reach out and read some of her poetry. 

I learned in Woo's article that Coleman was critical of Maya Angelou's memoir 'A Song Flung Up to Heaven'.  Woo writes:
Opinionated and fiercely individualistic, Coleman was also a critic and former columnist for The Times, whose scornful 2002 review of celebrated author Maya Angelou's "A Song Flung Up to Heaven" — one in a series of follow-ups to "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" — caused a tempest in the world of letters.

Coleman panned the memoir as "a sloppily written fake" conceived to satisfy commercial rather than aesthetic tastes. Her harsh attack on the iconic black writer drew national media coverage and led the African American owner of the specialty bookshop Esowon to ban Coleman from his store. But she remained unbowed.
Ouch!! I am a huge a fan of Maya Angelo's writing, but it appears that Wanda Coleman was not.

Until my next post, happy reading!!

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