Wanda Coleman, known as the unofficial poet laureate of Los Angeles, died Friday after a long illness, the Los Angeles Times reports, citing her husband. She was 67.
Her work focused on racism, as well as life below the poverty line in Los Angeles, California and throughout the southwest, according to her Poetry Foundation biography. She was born and raised in Watts.
She began writing poems at age 5, and had her first poems published in a local newspaper when she was 13, according to the Poetry Foundation. She had two kids by the time she was 20, and along with teaching workshops, she went through a variety of jobs and spent a brief time on welfare. One of the reasons she wrote poetry was due to the limited amount of time available to write while holding down a job.
Eventually, Coleman became a professional writer, with her work winning her several major pieces of recognition including a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Guggenheim Fellowship for Poetry and in 2001 she was a finalist for the National Book Award
"She gives us L.A. as a microcosm of what America is today and where it is heading. The picture is not always hopeful," Publishers Weekly wrote in a review of a collection of Coleman's work.
She also wasn't just a poet — she wrote essays and short fiction, and she even won an Emmy for her work on "Days of Our Lives."