LEFT COAST WRITERS LITERARY SALON: Aleta George, Author of Ina Coolbrith: The Bittersweet Song of California’s First Poet Laureate
It’s Ina Coolbrith’s birth month and also a prelude to National Poetry month, which takes place in April! What better time to join Aleta George in her look at the world of poetics and this important California contributor.
Aleta George is the author of the award-winning biography, Ina Coolbrith: The Bittersweet Song of California’s First Poet Laureate. She has written for Smithsonian, High Country News, the Los Angeles Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle. She is currently the open space reporter for the Bay Area Monitor, a publication of the League of Women Voters.
Ina Coolbrith: The Bittersweet Song of California’s First Poet Laureate is a new biography about a pioneer poet, Oakland’s first public librarian, and the most popular literary ambassador in the early American West.
California named Coolbrith its first poet laureate in 1915 during San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific International Exposition, and 2015 marks her centennial of being named California’s beloved first lady of poetry and America’s first laureate.
George’s deftly told and deeply researched book follows the struggles and triumphs of Coolbrith from her birth in 1841 as a niece of Joseph Smith to her death in 1928 as California’s most beloved poet. Covering territory from California’s goldfields to the young pueblo of Los Angeles and back to the Golden Gate, Coolbrith’s story parallels California’s adolescence. The book also tells the story of how the young Coolbrith slipped into the male-dominated, literary world of post–Gold Rush San Francisco where Bret Harte, Mark Twain, and John Muir got their start; how as a librarian she mentored Jack London and Isadora Duncan; and how in her eighties an unrequited love for poetry and a handsome young protégé named Carl drove her to Roaring Twenties New York where she was lauded by the Poetry Society of America.
Coolbrith was a working class woman and the primary breadwinner for her family. She met with a series of challenges throughout her life that tested her devotion to her art, but in the end, she put her full faith in poetry and her story reveals the saving grace of creativity in a woman’s life.