Wanda Coleman was born on November 13, 1946 and grew up in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA. Coleman's poetry is
widely anthologized and published, and her poetry collection
Bathwater Wine received the 1999 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. In addition to her poetic career, Coleman was also successful across genres.
She had a well-known column in the
Los Angeles Times and won an Emmy for her writing on
Days of Our Lives. The collection contains work produced by Coleman between 1960 and 2013, including manuscripts and drafts of her published
poetry and prose, journalism, writing for film and television, and spoken word recordings, as well as many unpublished writings.
In addition, there is a wealth of correspondence with major literary figures and institutions, activist materials, and ephemera
relating to Coleman's professional and personal life.
Wanda Coleman was born on November 13, 1946 in Watts and raised in South Central Los Angeles. When she was eighteen, she married
her first husband, Jerry Coleman, with whom she had two children, Anthony and Luanda Tunisia. Coleman retained custody of
the children when she and Jerry divorced in 1969, and struggled to survive and write as a single mother. She worked as an
Players, a conscious Black gentleman’s magazine, from 1972-1974, and in the mid 1970s, she moved to Hollywood, where she became an
active participant in the spoken word and poetry communities, penning works for Studio Watts and becoming a fixture at Beyond
Baroque in Venice. In 1977, she published a chapbook,
Art in the Court of the Blue Fag, followed by a full-length collection of poems,
Mad Dog Black Lady (1979) with Black Sparrow Press, beginning a publishing relationship that would last for over thirty years and produce twelve
books in various genres. Her third child, Ian, with her second husband Stephen Grant, was born in 1978. Coleman was also an
acclaimed performance artist known for her impactful readings. In the 1980s, her presence in the LA spoken word scene led
her to collaborate with seminal punk figures such as Exene Cervenka (X) and Lydia Lunch, and she worked with New Alliance
records to release a number of solo and split recordings. Coleman attended Valley Junior College and Cal State L.A., and went
on to teach at UCLA extension, Cal State Long Beach, Naropa, and Loyola Marymount University, where she held the Fletcher
Jones chair in literature and writing. Prolific across genres, Coleman wrote poetry, short stories, novels, nonfiction, and
plays, as well as scripts for film and television, winning an Emmy for her work on on
Days of Our Lives in 1976 and working as a featured columnist for the
Los Angeles Times. Coleman is one of the most widely anthologized and published poets of her generation, appearing in prestigious collections
Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology and
The Oxford Anthology of African-American Poetry. Her poetry collection
Bathwater Wine received the 1999 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize,
Mercurochrome: New Poems (2001) was a finalist for the National Book Award, and her honors include a Guggenheim, an NEA fellowship, and the Poetry
Society of America’s Shelley Memorial Award. With her husband of thirty years, poet and visual artist Austin Straus, she hosted
“The Poetry Connexion” on KPFK from 1981-1994. She died November 22, 2013. In November of 2015, the Ascot branch of the Los
Angeles public library in Watts, where Coleman spent many of her formative years reading and writing, was renamed the Wanda
Coleman Branch in her honor.
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