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

Ina Coolbrith: The Bittersweet Song of California’s First Poet Laureate captures the life and times of a pioneer poet, Oakland’s first public librarian, and the most popular literary ambassador in the early American West.

Bret Harte called her the “sweetest note in California literature.” Jack London and Isadora Duncan considered her their literary godmother. John Greenleaf Whittier knew more of her poems by heart than she did his. Hers is the story of adolescent California; of a female poet who slipped into the male-dominated literary world of post–Gold Rush San Francisco; and 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.

George’s deftly told and deeply researched book follows the struggles and triumphs of Coolbrith from her birth in 1841 as a niece of Joseph Smith to her death on the eve of the Great Depression as California’s most beloved poet. Throughout her life Ina met with a series of monumental challenges that tested her devotion to her art. In the end, she put her full faith in poetry, and her story reveals the saving grace of creativity in a woman’s life.

Advance Praise:

“This crisply written biography is a reminder that complex times can produce complex characters, even when the tide of society seeks to inhibit their ambitions. Telling Coolbrith’s story, author Aleta George further offers an intriguing glimpse of fin de siecle California and the rousing, sometimes rowdy adolescence of our nation.”

—Gerald Haslam, author of the award-winning biography In Thought and Action: The Enigmatic Life of S. I. Hayakawa, and professor emeritus at Sonoma State University.


“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