When I think of American poetry, I usually think of New York. John Ashbery, Frank O’Hara, Bernadette Mayer—most of the contemporary poets that I’ve studied hail from the monumental cities of the east coast, those with a rich artistic culture and history. New York’s west coast counterpart, Los Angeles, is rarely celebrated as a center for poetry and literature. Many equate the entirety of L.A. to Hollywood—the land of cinema and celebrities. However, in her book, Native in a Strange Land, Los Angeles native Wanda Coleman reveals that there is much more to the City of Angels than Hollywood glamour.
In this collection of articles, essays, interviews and columns, Wanda Coleman, Los Angeles’ noted satirist, poet, and journalist, recounts three decades of the growth of her city and herself. Gleaned from the Los Angeles Times, L.A. Weekly, The Free Press and other publications, Coleman says that these pieces offer “a tour through the restless emotional topography of Los Angeles as glimpsed through the scattered fragments of my living memory.”
We find the author–who is African-American, laboring as waitress, bartender, editor of a sleazy men’s magazine–caught up in militant revolutionary politics and witnessing even more violent social upheaval in the form of the Watts and Rodney King riots.
While Coleman’s life has been one of unique accomplishment, Publisher’s Weekly notes, “Her extraordinary eye for detail and personal perspective universalizes her experience and makes her observations both trenchant and reliable.” In short, this book is a must-read for any student of the American condition
Native in a Strange Land explores Coleman’s relationship to not only her race, gender, and economic status, but her city. After reading the book, I realized that I hadn’t given much thought to my relationship to my city, Los Angeles. I was born in Los Angeles. I grew up in Los Angeles. And now, I attend a university in Los Angeles. Never before have I distanced myself from the city enough to really reflect upon how it has influenced me. Coleman’s book compelled me to evaluate my own identity in relation to my city, my birthplace, my home. How does the city shape my identity? My lifestyle? My values? My perspectives? Does Los Angeles manifest itself in my writing, my art?
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Coleman’s book, finding it intellectually and emotionally stimulating. And I learned a bit more about myself along the way. I hope her book can do the same for you!
Post submitted by JoAnna