Ina Coolbrith

Ina Coolbrith: The Bittersweet Song of California's First Poet Laureate

by Aleta George
  • Paperback: 362 pages
  • Publisher: Shifting Plates Press (March 10, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 098612401X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0986124013
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches

  • Bronze Medal, 2016 Independent Publisher Book Awards (Biography)
  • Literary/Cultural Arts Award, 2015, Artists Embassy International

Ina Coolbrith: The Bittersweet Song of California's First Poet Laureate
is a biography about a poet, Oakland's first public librarian, and the most popular literary ambassador in the early American West.

This book follows the struggles and triumphs of this remarkable woman from her birth in 1841 as the niece of Mormon founder Joseph Smith to her death on the eve of the Great Depression. Coolbrith overcame a lifetime of adversity and achieved prominence as a contributor to the early narrative of California.

Hers is the story of adolescent California; the story of a female poet who slipped into the male-dominated literary world of post-Gold Rush San Francisco; and the story of a woman whose unrequited love for poetry (and a handsome young protégé named Carl) drove her to Roaring Twenties New York in her eighties.

Writer and editor Bret Harte called her the "sweetest note in California literature." Poet Edwin Markham dubbed her "Sappho of the West." Jack London and Isadora Duncan considered Coolbrith their literary godmother, and John Greenleaf Whittier knew more of her poems by heart than she did his. California crowned Ina Coolbrith its first poet laureate in 1915 during San Francisco's Panama-Pacific International Exposition, an honor that also made the seventy-four-year-old poet the nation's first state laureate.

 Select Reviews

"George's book enriches the kaleidoscope of American literary figures and may bring new attention to this regional writer."
-Publishers Weekly (BookLife)

"In a book marked by literary grace and conviction, Aleta George presents a nuanced yet compelling portrait of a major California figure." 
-Malcolm Margolin, Heyday Books

"Aleta George is an excellent writer, bringing to light many elements of Ina's life in a fascinating true story. I highly recommend the book to anyone who likes reading biographies, poetry, or California history."
-Colleen Adair Fliedner, author and speaker

"George's prose is finely turned yet unobtrusive throughout. It is her enthusiasm and affection for Coolbrith and California that gives this biography its vitality and crystal clear resonance."
-Keith Skinner, Extract(s), Daily Dose of Lit

"Coolbrith's life is so captivating that it has been waiting not just for another biographer, but for a first-rate storyteller."
-David Alpaugh, Ina Coolbrith Circle

"This book is engaging and detailed in a way that draws me in, not blocks me out. I'm totally in love with the time and place of [Ina's] story."
-Cal Tabuena-Frolli, Design & Illustrator, Public Radio

Select Media

Bay Area Women's History: The Pioneering Poet Ina Coolbrith, KTVU Fox2, Interviewed by reporter Jana Katsuyama, March 2024

Book Discussion, Ina Coolbrith | Video |, featured interviewee

"Oakland's first 'celebrity' librarian," East Bay Yesterday podcast, featured interviewee

"Jack London's Inspirational Librarian Remembered at State Park," Sonoma Index-Tribune

"Poet laureate Coolbrith: Did Berkeley shortchange her?," Berkeleyside

"The Mormon Entombed in Mark Twain's Heart: Ina Coolbrith and Samuel Clemens," Mark Twain Journal, v. 55, no. 1/2 (Spring/Fall 2017)

"Mark Twain's Mormon Girlfriend," Olivia Madsen, Brigham Young University humanities blog

"The 'Eye' in Ina Coolbrith," San Francisco Chronicle

"Suisun author brings early California poet laureate to life," Daily Republic

More about Ina

Unveiling of Ina's plaque at the bottom of Ina Coolbrith Path with members of the
Berkeley Pathwanderers Assn., the Berkeley Historical Plaque Project,
and the Berkeley Historical Society

Ina Coolbrith: Poet, Berkeley Historical Path Project 

Ina Coolbrith's Lost City of Love and Desire, Ina Coolbrith Circle website

Ina's Spark, Shifting Plates

Jack's Gold, Shifting Plates

A Quintessential Recipe, Shifting Plates

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