Diane di Prima, feminist writer, poet, and teacher, was born in Brooklyn, New York, on August 6, 1934, a second generation American of Italian descent. Her maternal grandfather, Domenico Mallozzi, an Italian-born anarchist and atheist — and associate of Carlo Tresca and Emma Goldman — casts a large shadow across her life; and Marlowe, her husband, is also a haunting presence. Di Prima's descriptions of domestic life with Marlowe in the early 1960s make for one of the saddest portraits of a marriage ever told. Isolated, alone, unable to drive and without money, she survived on the generosity of her mother.
Diane graduated from the college preparatory program at Hunter College High School, an elite public school for girls in New York City, where she worked on the editorial board of the school paper, Scribimus. She then attended Swarthmore College for two years. She left college in 1953 to live in Manhattan with her lovers and to write full-time. While living in Greenwich Village, di Prima became part of the Bohemian intellectual culture: well-educated, white, middle-class individuals who rejected middle-class values, choosing a rebellious life-style which included sexual freedom and the use of drugs. Di Prima began a correspondence with the poet Ezra Pound, visiting him daily for two weeks in 1955 at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, in Washington, D.C., where he was hospitalized.
Di Prima continued to write and was associated with such 'Beat Poets' as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. In 1958 This Kind of Bird Flies Backwards, her first book of poetry, was published. In 1961 she helped to organize the New York Poets Theatre. She also helped establish the Poets Press with Kerouac, McClure, Ginsberg, and Lord. She moved to Monroe, New York, in 1965, and then to Kerhonkson, New York, and Millbrook, New York, (Timothy Leary's experimental community) in 1966. In 1967 she traveled around the United States doing poetry readings. She headed for San Francisco in 1968 to work with the 'Diggers' distributing free food. She also took up the study of Zen Buddhism and the occult.
Di Prima has taught poetry at the New College of California, in San Francisco; the NAROPA Institute (the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics) in Boulder, Colorado; and the Poetry-in-the-Schools Program of the National Endowment for the Arts. She has also served as an instructor in Tarot reading and the art of healing as a member of the San Francisco Institute of the Magical and Healing Arts.
Claiming to be most strongly influenced by poets John Keats, Ezra Pound, and Dylan Thomas, di Prima is widely published, including such works as The Calculus of Variation (1972), Dinners and Nightmares (1961, 1974), Loba, Parts I-VIII (1978), Memoirs of a Beatnik (1969, 1988), Pieces of a Song: Selected Poems (1990), Revolutionary Letters (1968, 1969, 1971), Selected Poems, 1956-76 (1975), and Seminary Poems (1991). She has also contributed to and edited various anthologies of poetry, as well as translating medieval Latin into English in Seven Love Poems from the Middle Latin (1965, 1967). Her plays include: The Discontent of the Russian Prince, Discovery of America, Like, Murder Cake, and Whale Honey. He work has been translated into more than eight languages and four of her plays have been produced off-Broadway.
Besides being a co-founder of The Floating Bear, the Poets Theatre and the Poets Press, di Prima helped to organize The Gold Circle with other artists in 1978, and the San Francisco Institute of Magical and Healing Arts (with Janet Carter, Carl Grundberg, and Sheppard Powell) in 1983, and is the founder of Eidolon Editions (1972) and The Poets Institute (1976).
Diane has published forty-two books of poetry and prose and her work has been translated into more than twenty languages.
She has received grants for her poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1993, she received an Award for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry from the National Poetry Association. In May / June 1994 she was Master Artist-in-Residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts. In 1999, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Literature degree from St. Lawrence University. In Spring, 2000, she was Master Poet-in-Residence at Columbia College, Chicago. In 2002, she was one of three finalists for the position of Poet Laureate of California.
For the past thirty-four years she has lived and worked in northern California, where she took part in the political activities of the Diggers, and wrote Revolutionary Letters. She also studied Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, Sanskrit and alchemy, and raised her five children.
From Revolutionary Poem #16:
we are eating up the planet,
the New York Times takes a forest, every Sunday,
Los Angeles draws its water from the Sacramento Valley,
the rivers of British Columbia are ours on lease for 99 years...
First Snow, Kerhonkson - for Alan
This, then, is the gift the world has given me
(you have given me)
softly the snow
cupped in the hollows
lying on the surface of the pond
matching my long white candles
which stand at the window
which will burn at dusk while the snow
fills up our valley
no friend will wander down
no one arriving brown from Mexico
from the sunfields of California, bearing pot
they are scattered now, dead or silent
or blasted to madness
by the howling brightness of our once common vision
and this gift of yours-
white silence filling the contours of my life.