Born on November 13, 1946, Wanda Coleman grew up in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. Her poetry collection Bathwater Wine (Black Sparrow Press, 1998), received the 1999 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize.
A former medical secretary, magazine editor, journalist, and Emmy-winning scriptwriter, Coleman received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. Her books of poetry include Mercurochrome: New Poems (2001), which was a finalist for the National Book Award in poetry; Native in a Strange Land: Trials & Tremors (1996); Hand Dance (1993); African Sleeping Sickness (1990); A War of Eyes & Other Stories (1988); Heavy Daughter Blues: Poems & Stories 1968-1986 (1988); and Imagoes (1983). She also wrote Mambo Hips & Make Believe: A Novel (Black Sparrow Press, 1999) and Jazz and Twelve O'Clock Tales: New Stories (2008).
In an essay about Coleman's Marshall-winning Bathwater Wine, the poet Marilyn Hacker wrote that Coleman's poems display, “a verbal virtuosity and stylistic range that explodes/expands the merely linear, the simply narrative, the straightforwardly lyric, into a verbal mandala whose colors and textures spin off the page. Coleman is a poet who excels in public presentations, one whose work moves freely between the academy and the popular renaissance of poetry-as-performance in bars and coffeehouses—but her poems do not require an audible voice or physical presence: They perform themselves.”
The poet Juan Felipe Herrera called Coleman the “word-caster of live coals of Watts & LA.” She was regarded as a central figure in Los Angeles literary life. The Los Angeles Times book critic David Ulin noted that Coleman, "helped transform the city's literature."
Coleman lived in Los Angeles until her death on November 22, 2013.