Remembering LoVerne Brown


You choose to be a novelist, but you’re chosen to be a poet.
—May Sarton

Although poet LoVerne Brown first won acclaim for her work in the 1930s while a teenager at UC Berkeley, she didn’t receive widespread recognition for her poetry until the last few decades of her life (1975–2000). The majority of the poems in this book date to those years, during which she lived in the San Diego neighborhood of Ocean Beach, close to the Pacific Ocean, a frequent inspiration for her verse.

LoVerne was a city dweller for most of her adult life, but her childhood was spent in isolated places. Born in North Dakota in 1912 to school teachers Will and Alma Wilson, she grew up in Alaska and the northern woods of Wisconsin—wild and pristine places that instilled in her a love of nature and a respect for all living things. At age 14, she moved with family to Kingsburg, California, a hot and barren town south of Fresno that had none of the natural beauty of her previous homes. With fewer outside distractions, LoVerne devoted herself to writing, and her achievements earned her a full scholarship to UC Berkeley. While still a teenager, her poetry began appearing regularly in the Oakland Tribune and Westward, a poetry journal, and accolades for her work began pouring in.

LoVerne left Berkeley in 1935 to return to Alaska, where she found work as a newspaper reporter in Juneau. She also found a husband—fellow reporter George Brown—and the couple soon moved to Seldovia to publish a newspaper for this small town on the Kenai Peninsula. Their venture lasted only a year, and by the end of 1937, George and LoVerne—and year-old son Tony—had relocated to Berkeley, to be closer to LoVerne’s family. 

During the early years of her marriage, LoVerne ghostwrote two books—No Life for a Lady and Consultation Room—both of which won national awards, and as her family grew to include daughter Jonnie and second son Tim, she frequently penned humorous poems about her offspring, which she sold to magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post and The Ladies Home Journal.

LoVerne and daughter, Jonnie Wilson.

When in 1950, George Brown, then a government employee, was transferred to the San Diego area, the family settled in the seaside community of Ocean Beach. But George didn’t have a chance to enjoy his new home for long. In 1952, he died suddenly of a heart attack, and LoVerne became the family breadwinner, working for the next 22 years in the Engineering Department of the City of San Diego. During those years, her children grew up and moved on with their lives, settling in other parts of San Diego and California, but LoVerne never left her beloved Ocean Beach (or “O. B.” as the natives call it).

During her half-century in O. B. (1950-2000), LoVerne was active in the community in many ways, especially following her retirement in 1974. She was co-founder of the Ocean Beach Community School in 1976 (as well as the school’s poetry teacher) and a longtime member and officer of both the O. B. Friends of the Library and the O. B.— Pt. Loma chapter of the National League of American Penwomen. She founded the Ocean Beach Poetry Circle, which for years published the annual anthology Zip Code 92107.

With co-authors Katie Elsbree and Denny Doyle, she penned The Grass Roots Alternative: A Citizens’ Approach to Community Education, a 1977 publication based largely on the authors’ experience in founding the Ocean Beach Community School the previous year.

There was one thing, however, that the multi-talented LoVerne wasn’t very good at—tooting her own horn. Fortunately, she had many friends who were happy to take on this task to ensure that LoVerne’s poetry was available to everyone. (Most of her early serious work had been published in poetry journals, which had limited audiences of mostly other poets.) In 1983, one of LoVerne’s friends, Steve Kowit, published a collection of her work (The View from the End of the Pier) as a 71st birthday present to her. This volume sold out quickly and is today a collector’s item. Two more collections followed (again published by friends as gifts to LoVerne): Gathering Wine Grapes at the Hollywood Hilton (1986) and The Under Side of Snow (1996). 

By the early 1980s, retiree LoVerne began responding to requests to do poetry readings throughout the city. In 1988, she was selected as one of several local poets to read their work on television in conjunction with a 12-part PBS series called “Voices and Visions.” In 1994, she participated in the first Border Voices poetry fair in San Diego’s Balboa Park, and in 1997, she won first place in the poetry division at the San Diego Book Awards for her third book The Under Side of Snow. In 1999, 87-year-old LoVerne Brown was honored with the Local Author Lifetime Achievement Award (LOLA), an annual award given by the San Diego Public Library to a local author for his or her body of work.

Although she was an accomplished writer throughout her 88 years of life, LoVerne was treasured even more by friends and family for who she was as a person. A model of integrity and class, she was known for her generous spirit, her inclusive nature, her delightful sense of humor, and her unconditional love for her fellow human beings. A lifelong Democrat, she was active on the political scene and supported numerous social justice causes, especially those that benefited the homeless and victims of abuse. She modeled in her words and actions respect for all living things. Her love, grace, and infinite wisdom touched many, and her essence lives on in their hearts and minds.

—Jonnie Wilson