Wanda Coleman RIP
November 23, 2013 2:13 PM   Subscribe

The African-American poet died yesterday, at 67, after a long illness.

Coleman's poetry is known for its use of the vernacular, and is often quite autobiographical. She was affiliated early on, with Beyond Baroque literary center in Venice and her work became a way of writing about Los Angeles, anthologized in Writing Los Angeles (link to download of book) and called the unofficial poet laureate of Los Angeles She had a column in the Los Angeles Times for three years and most of those works are collected in Natives in a Strange Land or in The Riot Inside Me (amazon links)

. Her work was, profoundly performative., (you tube links) but also was formally tight, especially her American Sonnets seires dedicated to as varied writers as Robert Lowell and Elinor Wylie. She also included muchblues argot. She released a blues album, with both spoken word and music, in 1990. amazon link

She was nominated for the National Book Award in 2001 for Mercurochrome in 2001 and was
finalist for Poet Laureate of California for two years in 2005 and 2012 though she never won. She was a writer for Days of Our Lives in the 1970s, and was the first African American to win an Emmy for writing in 1976 She was also a rigorous and adroit critic, writing a controversial review of Maya Angelou's A Song Flung Up to Heaven. This resulted in losing work, and some censoring, an experince she wrote about in the Nation

Camille Paglia, notorious for her problems with women writing, included her in the annotated anthology Burn Break Blow, writing about the autobiographical text Wanda Why Aren't You Dead.

I would like to end this memorial with what might be the most powerful work of hers might be her work on Emmet Till, and it's discussion of rivers, and it's blasphemy of baptism. heard here
posted by PinkMoose (16 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

Thank you. That was a wonderful obituary post.
posted by Kattullus at 2:38 PM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

She was in Angry Women, which I know was much criticized for its labeling of the women included as "angry" but which was revelatory to me reading it at 17. And that was more than twenty years ago now. I did not know that she wrote for Days of Our Lives.

Too young to go, though, much too young.
posted by Frowner at 3:00 PM on November 23, 2013

posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:37 PM on November 23, 2013

Thank you. I had not heard of her. I read "Wanda Why Aren't You Dead" and listened to the Emmet Till piece. Such a powerful voice!
posted by michellenoel at 3:41 PM on November 23, 2013

posted by Cash4Lead at 3:42 PM on November 23, 2013

I first heard and heard of Wanda Coleman on the Voices of the Angels spoken word compilation that came out in the early 80s. Her "Where I Live" is one of the few things I can still recall from it, even though according to Discogs she appears twice. (The other thing I remember is Chuck Dukowski's "SWA Manifesto", oddly enough.)
posted by ardgedee at 3:56 PM on November 23, 2013

Wanda Coleman remembers the time she interviewed Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer in 1973, at a time when "I didn't smoke marijuana on my own and, at that point, had never been high."

She was amazing and courageous and this is a fantastic obituary. Thanks, PinkMoose. I made a post back in 2002 about the Maya Angelou controversy, and the above link to her response to those outraged she'd dare to criticize Maya is a really interesting read (despite The Nation's bad formatting). This interview is really good, too, including her annoyance at Angelou's popular "pap" and her thoughts about L.A. scene history and collaborations with Exene Cervenka, Lydia Lunch, Jello Biafra and Henry Rollins:

We were not strangers. I first met John Doe and Exene in their early days before they formed their rock band X, while they were aspiring young poets hanging out at Beyond Baroque Literary Center in Venice Beach, so we were already on friendly terms if not friends. We had a great time putting the album together, and every reading we did was hothothot and packed to the rafters.

My first exposures to Wanda Coleman were the Black & Blue News and Berserk on Hollywood Blvd records in the 90s. Poems like "A Late 80's Party," "The Women in My Life," "Prove It Why Don't You" and "Homage to an Old White Lady" were such sharp honest blasts of musical speech that I've been sold on performance poetry ever since. Those two records are fantastic collections from a poet at the peak of her powers; I'll never forget the brilliant way she modulated her voice. Rest in peace, Wanda Coleman.

posted by mediareport at 4:43 PM on November 23, 2013

posted by hortense at 5:08 PM on November 23, 2013

posted by roll truck roll at 5:24 PM on November 23, 2013


The world can't afford to lose poets. :(
posted by BlueHorse at 5:28 PM on November 23, 2013

posted by sculpin at 5:46 PM on November 23, 2013

posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 7:26 PM on November 23, 2013

Hoo boy. I bought Heavy Daughter Blues back in 1986? 1987? Read it and reread for years. Haven't thought about it for a while, as I sort of got out of the habit of reading poetry.

Now realize this is a mistake that must be redressed at once, maybe with Coleman, whose death is like learning that an estranged friend has died. RIP.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:55 PM on November 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

posted by chance at 5:36 AM on November 24, 2013

posted by El Brendano at 1:08 PM on November 24, 2013

posted by larrybob at 5:04 PM on November 24, 2013

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