“Possibly So”: Wanda Coleman, Nelson Mandela, Amiri Baraka, Franklin McCain

Saturday, January 11, 2014

I was working in my office at CSULB late this afternoon when my cell-phone rang: it was Austin Straus, and he wanted to know about possible hotel accommodations in Seattle during the AWP conference at the end of February. After we also briefly discussed next weekend’s events at the Central Library in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday and Sunday’s gathering at the Church in Ocean Park, Austin mentioned that he continues to be caught off-guard by the extent to which Wanda was recognized as a cultural force. Most recently, he had a doctor’s appointment and decided to take some of the day’s mail with him, which included a book package with a copy of the latest issue of African-American Review (volume 45, no. 4). When he sat down in the doctor’s waiting room, he began to peruse the issue, but didn’t get much further than the dedication page:


Wanda Coleman

and Nelson Mandela

each of whom

belonged to the world


now to the ages.

For those of us in Los Angeles who lived within the near order (in Henri Lefebvre’s sense) of Wanda’s visions of empowering possibilities, the apprehension of her stature never required more than the briefest of considerations. To know that others committed to social change appreciated her indefatigable passion for the poetics of justice — as only poetry can justify it — enough to include this kind of dedication page is a consolation of the first magnitude. We thank our distant friends for their tribute to our city’s most prescient poet, and confess to being deeply moved that her passing would summon the aura of such a famous farewell. To continue that echo, I would add that a valiant fortitude marked Wanda’s life and transformation into one who deserves the full measure of our devotion.

The news has also arrived of the death of Amiri Baraka, another of the soul sustaining voices that refuse to make things easy for anyone’s social critique. Nor does the perishing seem to show any sense of pausing: Franklin McCain has died, too. Such profound intersections are rare, and ask to be heeded. One thinks of how Baraka’s life included lunch with Frank O’Hara, at the end of which O’Hara meditates on the likelihood to which our lives can overlap with others in even a minimal manner. “Possibly so.” Franklin McCain’s desire to eat lunch at any place that served the comfort of nourishment had more ramifications that he ever anticipated. That refusal ended up forcing a society to ask itself if other ideals were worth risking one’s life for. “Possibly so.”