Updated: Sep 15, 2020
Ina Donna Coolbrith was an American poet, writer, librarian, and a prominent figure in the San Francisco Bay Area literary community. Born the niece of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints founder Joseph Smith, she left the Mormon community as a child to enter her teens in Los Angeles, where she began to publish poetry. “The first white child to enter CA by Beckwourth Pass, in the first covered wagon train traveling that route." She terminated a youthful failed marriage to make her home in San Francisco, and met writers Bret Harte and Charles Warren Stoddard with whom she formed the "Golden Gate Trinity" closely associated with the literary journal Overland Monthly. Her poetry received positive notice from critics and established poets such as Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce and Alfred Lord Tennyson. She held literary salons at her home in Russian Hill to introduce new writers to publishers. Coolbrith befriended the poet Joaquin Miller and helped him gain global fame. Her first love was poetry, but she earned a living as a librarian in the 1870s, first in Oakland where she mentored Jack London and Isabel Duncan, and later at the Mercantile Library and the Bohemian Club, where she was an honorary member. She worked 16-hour days, 6 days a week, and slept on a cot in the library.
California was her muse, her inspiration —- she loved the state’s natural beauty. "On June 30, 1915, Coolbrith was named California's poet laureate, and she continued to write poetry for eight more years. Her style was more than the usual melancholic or uplifting themes expected of women—she included a wide variety of subjects in her poems, which were noted as being "singularly sympathetic" and "palpably spontaneous”. Her sensuous descriptions of natural scenes advanced the art of Victorian poetry to incorporate greater accuracy without trite sentiment, foreshadowing the Imagist school and the work of Robert Frost."