first Poet Laureate and the first woman member of the Bohemian Club, Ina
Donna Coolbrith is not only a pioneer in literature, she's also a Pioneer.
Coolbrith came to California on the back of a horse at the age of ten after
her widowed mother denounced the Mormons and headed West with a new husband.
Led by mountain guide James P. Beckwith, the family arrived in California
from Illinois in September, 1852. Raised in Los Angeles, a young Coolbrith
became a published poet. After a bad marriage, she reinvented herself and
moved to San Francisco at the age 20. Her life here is marked by her distinguished
career as a librarian and, with Charles Warren Stoddard and Bret
Harte, as a member of "the Golden Gate Trinity," the editors of the
Overland Monthly. Coolbrith was a friend and mentor to three generations
of writers including
Mark Twain, Isadora Duncan,
and Jack London. Though she achieved world
acclaim, Coolbrith is perhaps equally famous for something she didn't write.
When the fire of 1906 burned her flat at 1406 Taylor Street, all of her
notes were destroyed. Coolbrith's lost history of literary California is
akin to a record of the Italian Renaissance were it not to include the
The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini. Among her accomplishments, Coolbrith
was the first librarian of the Oakland Public Library. Born Josephine Donna
Smith, her name is a composite of her birth name, a nom de plume, and her
mother's maiden name. A park dedicate in honor of Coolbrith is located
near the Taylor Street address. With beautiful views and layers of walks
and gardens, it is the pride of Russian