Poet Wanda Coleman

Poet Wanda Coleman, a key Los Angeles literary figure shown in 1999, has died. (Los Angeles Times / December 20, 1999)

Poet Wanda Coleman died Friday after a long illness, her husband said. She was 67.

Coleman was a key figure in the literary life of Los Angeles. She, as our book critic David Ulin recently wrote, "helped transform the city's literature." She was a finalist for the National Book Award for her poetry collection "Mercurochrome" in 2001.

Born and raised in Watts, Coleman often wrote of issues of race, class, poverty and disenfranchisement. "Words seem inadequate in expressing the anger and outrage I feel at the persistent racism that permeates every aspect of black American life," she once said. "Since words are what I am best at, I concern myself with this as an urban actuality as best I can."

Despite the driving theme of anger in her work, Coleman was a delightful presence: sharp, funny and powerfully charismatic.

She began writing as a young woman and was part of the Watts Writers Workshop that began after the 1965 riots. She was also involved with Beyond Baroque in Venice.

She published her first poetry collection, "Mad Dog Black Lady," in 1979. Her poetry was primarily published by Black Sparrow Press, home of Charles Bukowski.

She succeeded in all kind of writing. She won an Emmy for her work on "Days of Our Lives" and produced essays and short fiction. But she was primarily known as a poet, publishing a dozen poetry collections in her lifetime.

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