Wanda Coleman, widely considered the “unofficial poet laureate of Los Angeles,” has been battling an upper respiratory infection since September; she has been hospitalized more than once.
According to an email from Richard Modiano, director of Beyond Baroque Literary/Arts Center, Coleman had to cancel several appearances this fall due to illness, and recently went back into the hospital again. She is scheduled to be released early this week but will need additional care after she is discharged.
Because Coleman’s outpatient care will not be covered by insurance, she is asking for assistance. Donation checks can be sent to: Wanda Coleman, P.O. Box 571, Lancaster, CA 93534.
Coleman, 65, is an L.A. legend — a poet, essayist and fiction writer who helped transform the city’s literature when she emerged in the early 1970s. Born and raised in Watts, she writes, first and foremost, out of the community — both the African American community and that of Los Angeles.
In the 40 or so years since she began to publish, this idea — of L.A. as a literary landscape in its own right — has become common currency, but it’s no exaggeration to say that Coleman is a central driver in this cause.
When she began to write, Los Angeles literature was largely a literature of exile, written primarily by outsiders who came here from elsewhere, stayed briefly or lingered along the city’s glittering surfaces and did not invest the place with any depth. Working in the tradition of John Fante, Chester Himes and Charles Bukowski, Coleman invented a new way of thinking and writing about the city: street-level, gritty, engaged with it not as a mythic landscape, but in the most fundamental sense as home.
Home, of course, is a complicated concept, which is a constant theme in Coleman’s work. She embraces L.A. but fights back against it also, outraged by its inequities, its discrimination, its failed promises, its social and racial hierarchies. In the 1990s, she wrote a column for the Los Angeles Times Magazine that focused relentlessly on such issues; her collection of essays, “The Riot Inside Me,” makes the point explicit, especially in the stunning title essay, which addresses the legacy of LAPD beating victim Rodney King.
Coleman was a finalist for the 2001 National Book Award for her poetry collection “Mercurochrome,” and has won many other awards — including a daytime Emmy for her work as a writer, during the 1970s, on the soap opera “Days of Our Lives.”
“Others often use the word ‘uncompromising’ to describe my work,” she once told an interviewer. “I find that quite pleasing.”