Los Angeles Poet Wanda Coleman Dies at 67

poet wanda coleman dies

Los Angeles Poet Wanda Coleman Dies at 67

Wanda Coleman, a native of Watts who long was regarded as L.A.’s unofficial poet laureate, died Friday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center after a long illness, said her husband, poet Austin Straus. She was only 67.

During four decades on the Los Angeles poetry scene, Wanda Coleman wrote more than 20 books, which included novels and collections of short stories and essays.

The L.A. times reported:

With her dark skin and “unconkable kinky hair,” Wanda Coleman found growing up in Los Angeles in the 1950s often felt like torture.

The stultifying intellectual loneliness of my 1950s and ’60s upbringing was dictated by my looks,” she wrote years later. “Boys gawked at me, and girls tittered behind my back. Black teachers shook their heads in pity, and White teachers stared in amusement or in wonder.” Books became her precious refuge but were hard to come by because the libraries, she noted, “discouraged Negro readers.”

Many of her poems burned with remembered insults and injustices, as in “Chapter 2 of the Story” from “Bathwater Wine,” which describes her experiences with a librarian whose bifocals “magnified the bigotry in her eyes.”


her gray eyes policed me thru the stacks like Dobermans

she watched me come and go, take books and bring books

she monitored the titles and after a while decided

she’d misjudged her little colored girl

and for a time she tried to apologize in her way. to engage

in small talk. i never answered back. once, she set

special books aside to gain my trust respect smile

May she rest in peace!