Over the past week, since Wanda Coleman’s untimely death at 67, admirers have been remembering her formidable body of work, her electrifying readings – and her identification with the city she called her home. Growing up in Watts in the 1950s, she experienced not only discrimination but also taunts by other black children because of her dark skin and untamable hair—which she describes in Bathwater Wine as “threads within coils within knots within twists.”
As a child, she took refuge in books, although not necessarily in libraries. (One poem describes a white librarian policing her through the stacks.) Her love of language sustained Coleman through her struggles to earn a living as a single mother, to cope with the death of a son and her own ill health. She did not choose an easy path. Furthermore, the West Coast is a hard place for any poet to make her name.
But Los Angeles gave Coleman a vocabulary and a landscape that she in turn made her own.