Pat Parker was born Patricia Cooks in Houston, Texas, on January 20, 1944. The daughter of a tire retreader and a domestic worker, she grew up in poverty. After graduating from high school in 1962, she moved to California and received a BA from Los Angeles City College and a graduate degree from San Francisco State College. She married twice in the 1960s, first to the playwright Ed Bullins and later to Robert F. Parker, from whom she was divorced in 1966.
In the late 1960s, Parker began to identify as a lesbian, and she became actively involved in the civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights movements, occasionally reading her poetry at events. Along with the poet Judy Grahn and others, she developed a community around lesbian poetry readings on the West Coast. Parker said of this community, “It was like pioneering….We were talking to women about women, and, at the same time, letting women know that the experiences they were having were shared by other people.”
Parker was the author of five poetry collections: Jonestown and other madness (Firebrand Books, 1985); Movement in Black (Diana Press, 1978), Woman Slaughter (Diana Press, 1978); Pit Stop (Women’s Press Collective, 1975); and Child of Myself (Women’s Press Collective, 1972). Parker is known for her unflinching honesty in addressing issues about sex, race, motherhood, alcoholism, and violence. Audre Lorde called Parker’s poetry “clean and sharp without ever being neat.”
Parker directed the Feminist Women’s Health Center in Oakland, founded the Black Women’s Revolutionary Council and the Women’s Press Collective, and testified before the United Nations on the status of women. She died of breast cancer in June of 1989.