(March 10, 1841 – February 29, 1928)
I fell in love with Ina Coolbrith fairly recently. I can’t remember exactly how we “met” though I suspect it had something to do with her friendship with Charlotte Perkins Gilman or perhaps it was from my relentless search for writer’s homes to visit. Ina was the first poet laureate of California so she had homes here in California.
She lived in Oakland and San Francisco with a childhood spent in Los Angeles, so there began my search and my “romance” with all things Ina. None of her homes in Oakland exist anymore. They have been torn down to make way for businesses in China Town or other office buildings.
She was always a pioneer. She was the first Anglo Girl Child to cross into the state of California via covered wagon when she was ten years old. She attended the first elementary school in Los Angeles. She was the first person to write a Commencement Ode for the University of California, Berkeley. She was the first woman member of the San Francisco Bohemian Club. She was the first librarian for the Oakland Public Library.
Jack London called her his “literary mother” and she spent time mothering the daughter of fellow Bay area poet, Joaquin Miller, who was busy traveling and being his even more eccentric self. The baby girl, Calle Shasta, was literally left on her doorstep as Miller left town, perhaps during the visit to Byron’s tomb with a wreath of laurels Ina had crafted specifically for that purpose.
She also had a positive impact on the then-young Isadora Duncan, who was a neighbor in Oakland.
Here is one story which will tell you how beloved Ina Coolbrith was:
In the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, her home at 1704 Taylor was destroyed. Her papers were burned. This included manuscripts she was working on at the time including her memoirs and letters. She fell into a depression after this enormous loss. Her friends rallied and had a new house built for her as a gift from them. Can you imagine?
Her older years were spent in San Francisco where she spoke and wrote and continued to influence many. There is a park in San Francisco bearing her name which has one of the most phenomenal views I have ever seen. It faces east, toward Oakland – which was her home for so many years.
I will continue my friendship with Ina, I imagine, for the rest of my life.
This blog post is an entry in the A to Z Challenge. Each day in April (except Sundays) I will be featuring a woman in literary history. If you click on the logo below, you will be introduced to the writing of more than a thousand bloggers writing on a wide variety of topics in April, all from A to Z!
Julie Jordan Scott has been a Life & Creativity Coach, Writer, Facilitator and Teleclass Leader since 1999. She is also an award winning Actor, Director, Artist and Mother Extraordinaire. She was twice the StoryTelling Slam champion in Bakersfield. She teaches a teleclass/ecourse "Discover the Power of Writing & Telling Engaging, Enlightening Stories" which begins again April 19, 2012. Find details by clicking this link.
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