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Wed, 11.13.1946

Wanda Coleman, Poet, and Author born

Wanda Coleman

*Wanda Coleman was born on this date in 1946.  She was a Black poet and author.

Wanda Evans was born in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, where she grew up during the 1950s and 1960s. She was the eldest of four children.  Her parents were George and Lewana (Scott) Evans, who were introduced to one another at church by his aunt. In 1931, her father had relocated to Los Angeles from Little Rock, Arkansas, after the lynching of a young man who was hung from a church steeple.  He was an ex-boxer and long-time friend and sparring partner of Light Heavyweight Champion Archie Moore. In Los Angeles, he ran a sign shop during the day and worked the graveyard shift as a janitor at RCA Victor Records.  Her mother worked as a seamstress and as a housekeeper for Ronald Reagan, among other celebrities.

After graduating from John C. Fremont High School in Los Angeles, she married white Southerner Charles Coleman, a troubleshooter for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  Their union produced two children, Luanda and Anthony.  During this time Evans enrolled at Los Angeles Valley College in Van Nuys, California.  She transferred to California State University Los Angeles.  After divorcing her first husband, she worked a variety of odd jobs to raise her children as a single mother, including waiting tables, typing, and even editing a soft-core pornography magazine.

She published her first short story "Watching the Sunset" in Negro Digest/Black World in 1970.  Her first poetry manuscript was published as the chapbook Art in the Court of the Blue Fag in 1977.  She went on to marry two more times. Her third husband was poet Austin Straus, whom she married in 1981.  She and Straus hosted a radio show, Pacifica Radio's "Poetry Connexion", from 1981 to 1996.  On the show, they interviewed both local and internationally known writers.

During this time (1999) her first novel, Mambo Hips and Make Believe, described as “ambitious,” appeared.  Within her writing, whether it be fiction, essays, or poetry, Coleman introduced and develops characters whose lives bring to light social inequalities.  Coleman received fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the California Arts Council (in fiction and in poetry).

While critically acclaimed for her creative writing, another Coleman encounter with notoriety came as a result of an unfavorable review she wrote in April 14, 2002, issue of the Los Angeles Times Book Review of Maya Angelou's book A Song Flung Up to Heaven.  Coleman found the book to be "small and inauthentic, without ideas wisdom or vision". Coleman's review provoked mixed responses, including the cancellation of events and the rescinding of invitations.  Her account of this incident appeared in the September 16, 2002, edition of The Nation.   She was the first C.O.L.A. Literary Fellow (Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, 2003). Her honors included an Emmy in Daytime Drama writing, the 1999 Lenore Marshall Prize (for Bathwater Wine), and a nomination for the 2001 National Book Awards (for Mercurochrome).

She was a finalist for California poet laureate (2005).  She was also known as "the L.A. Blueswoman". Wanda Colman died on November 22, 2013.


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