Diane di Prima, feminist writer, poet, and teacher, was born in Brooklyn, New York, on August 6, 1934. Di Prima is the eldest child and only daughter of Francis and Emma di Prima, who were college-educated, middle-class Italian-Americans. Di Prima has two younger brothers, Frank (born November 6, 1937) and Richard (born September 19, 1941) who followed more traditional career paths, becoming an attorney and the owner of an educational electronics firm, respectively.
Diane di Prima 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 Le Roi Jones (Imanu Amari Baraka), Allen Ginsberg, Audre Lord, and Jack Kerouac. Together with Jones, she edited The Floating Bear, an influential underground newsletter of Greenwich Village, from 1961-1969. In 1958 This Kind of Bird Flies Backwards, her first book of poetry, was published, followed in 1960 by Dinners and Nightmares, her first published book of short stories. In 1961 she helped to organize the New York Poets Theatre with Jones, Fred Herko, James Waring and Alan Marlowe. 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 di Prima was married in 1962 to writer Alan Marlowe (divorced 1969) and in 1972 to Grant Fisher (divorced 1975.) She is the mother of five children: Jeanne (born October 28, 1957), Dominique (born June 4, 1962), Alexander (August 12, 1963), Tara (December 23, 1967), and Rudra (September 17, 1971).
The University of Louisville purchased various collections of papers belonging to feminist poet and writer Diane di Prima from the Phoenix Book Store in New York City, in four separate acquisitions made in 1966, 1967, and 1968. Negotiations for later acquisitions were made by telephone and were not documented. The papers in the collection date from 1934 to 1992, beginning with ephemera from di Prima's childhood. The bulk of the 9.5 linear foot collection, which is divided into eight series, is correspondence and literary productions, but even those series are incomplete. Apparently di Prima sold some of her notebooks and other papers over the years. These materials are in the hands of various collectors and repositories, including the Lilly Library at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, and Southern Illinois University, in Carbondale, Illinois. It is also likely that papers were lost during her many moves and due to her sometimes nomadic lifestyle. Even with these gaps, this collection significantly documents the life of this prolific and important twentieth century writer.
This series, one of the largest in the collection, dates from di Prima's college years (1951-1953) through 1992. Incoming correspondence, arranged alphabetically, covers a wide range of topics, some personal and some professional. There are many single pieces of correspondence such as postcards and greeting cards from di Prima's friends, acquaintances, and colleagues. This finding aid includes a complete list of incoming correspondents. The majority of the outgoing correspondence, arranged chronologically, is of later vintage (from 1980) although there is a significant number of letters to di Prima's parents during her college years through 1981.
Diaries and Journals (1 linear foot) Boxes 6-7
Holograph notebooks from the 1950s and 1960s make up the bulk of this series. They begin in 1953 when di Prima left college to settle in New York City as a writer and end in 1968 when she moved to San Francisco. The remainder of the series consists of purse notebooks and engagement calendars from 1990 to 1992.
Literary Productions (4.5 linear feet) Boxes 8-15, 19, loose
This large series is subdivided by type of literary output, beginning with articles, essays, interviews and lectures. The next subseries consists of books, other than poetry, followed by plays. The major subseries is poetry, filed alphabetically, in order of drafts, notes, and manuscripts of individual works. Published single works, published individually or in anthologies or other sources are also present. Next comes published and unpublished collections. The last two subseries are short stories and translations.
Teaching Materials (.25 linear foot) Box 15
Despite the length of di Prima's teaching career, this is a very small series containing teaching notes, class descriptions, contracts, and internal correspondence regarding di Prima's work with the New College of California, NAROPA Institute, and the San Francisco Institute of the Magical and Healing Arts.
Printed Material (1 linear foot) Boxes 16-17, 19, loose
This series includes promotional material for di Prima's poetry readings, the work of other writers, and clippings and other information about the 1979 case in which Imanu Amari Baraka (a.k.a. LeRoi Jones), close friend of di Prima and father of her second child, was charged with assaulting a police officer in what was called a racially motivated arrest. There is also a 1983 University of Louisville master's thesis which examines di Prima's life and work: Sharon Slaton Gibson, "Diane di Prima, Beat, Hippie, and Feminist: A Fragment of American Literary and Personal History."
Legal Documents (.1 linear foot) Box 18
Two folders of papers, mainly legal paperwork for two incorporations (Aeon incorporation and LAPIS Foundation) directly involving di Prima, comprise this series.
Scrapbook and Photographs (.3 linear foot) Box 18
This small series contains items from di Prima's childhood and materials relating to her children. It also includes a birth announcement for Tara Marlowe and a wedding announcement of the marriage of Di Prima and Grant Fisher in 1972. There are also a few photographs of di Prima and others.
Audio (.1 linear foot) Box 18
A tape by singer John Braden, which includes one song, "November," with lyrics by di Prima, completes this series.
8. Soup, 1980, Steve Abbott, ed., San Francisco: Steve Abbott, 1980
"Two from One"
9. The Sun Sets on Sunbonnet Sue, 1983 (two copies)
"Astrological Speculations of the Chaldeans,"
"The Dentist from L.A."
10. War Poems, Diane DiPrima, ed., New York: Poets Press, 1968
"Alba, for a Dark Year"
"Rant, from a Cool Place"
"To the Unknown Buddhist Nun Who Burned Herself to Death on the Night of June 3, 1966"
11. Zen Writing Workshop, containing one untitled di Prima poem
Published and unpublished collections
12. The Calculus of Variation, San Francisco, 1972
13. "Cycle," draft, 1956-1957
14. Earthsong: Poems, 1957-1959, New York: Poets Press, 1968
15. "For You," typescript, 1957-1958
1. Freddie Poems, Point Reyes, CA: Eidolon Editions, 1974
2. Haiku, typescript with proof of woodcuts Haiku, Topanga, CA: Love Press, n.d.
3. Hotel Albert, New York: Poets Press, 1968 (two copies)
4. KALI-MA, manuscript
5. Kerhonkson Journal 1966, Berkeley: Oyez, 1971
6. L.A. Odyssey, New York: Poets Press, 1969 (two copies)
7. Loba, draft and performance notes.
8. Loba, Part 1, Santa Barbara: Capra Press, 1971
9. Loba As Eve, New York: Phoenix Book Shop, 1975
10. Loba, Part II, Pt. Reyes: Eiddon Editions, 1976
11. Loba, Parts I - VIII, Berkeley: Wingbow Press, 1978
12. The New Handbook of Heaven, San Francisco: Auerhahn Press, 1963 (two copies)
13. Draft for cover of Pieces of a Song
14. Pieces of a Song: Selected Poems, San Francisco: City Light Books, 1990
1. Revolutionary Letters, 1968
2. Revolutionary Letters, London: Long Hair Books, 1969
3. Revolutionary Letters, 1971
4. Revolutionary Letters, Etc., San Francisco: City Light Books, 1971 (two copies)
5. Selected Poems, 1956-1975, Plainfield, VT: North Atlantic Books, 1975
3. Diane di Prima, childhood materials: school reports, notes, lists, 1934-1963
4. Birth announcement, Tara Marlowe, 1967
5. Wedding announcement, Diane di Prima and Grant Fisher, 1971
6. Rudi, childhood papers, n.d.
7. Miscellaneous membership and ID cards, 1979-1991
8. Poetry and musings by Alex Marlowe, age 17, 1980
9. Invitations, n.d. and 1989
10. Promotional material for shows and other events with Alex Marlowe and Dominique di Prima, n.d.
11. Photographs, n.d. and 1988
12. Ojai Conference, photographs and notes, 1990
SERIES 8: AUDIO TAPES
13. Reel to reel tape of John Braden performing the song "November" with lyrics by di Prima
Box 19 (Oversize)
The Book of Hours, New York: Brownstone, 1970 (two Copies)
Poster: Readings by Diane Di Prima and Lucien Stryk at the University of Louisville, April-May [1980s]
"The Bell Tower," No Mountains Poetry Project, Broadside #6, Signed and numbered 100/150, February 1976
The Floating Bear, Vols. 1-37, Bound, La Jolla: Laurence McGilvery, 1973 (two Copies)
Poem from "Three Laments," Poetry on the Buses
Di Prima accretions:
Two manuscripts –
With the Grace and Gentleness of the Warrior: Diane di Prima and the Literary Underground, by Sharon S. Gibson, Towson State University. 189 p. (no date but after 1989)
Includes a list of questions for di Prima. “79 post its and numerous holographic corrections throughout”
Diane di Prima, Beat, Hippie, and Feminist: A Fragment of American Literary and Personal History, by Sharon Slaton Gibson, University of Louisville. September 1983, 110 p.
Beat Coast East. Stanley Fisher, ed. New York: Excelsior Press, 1960. "Blackout."
The City. (August 1991). "Awkward Song on the Eve of War."
The Dodd, Swarthmore College Magazine. (Spring 1952). "Ethic of Sidney McCosh."
The Dream Book: An Anthology of Writings by Italian American Women. Helen Barolini, ed. New York: Schocken Books, 1987. "Lullaby," "Marriage," "Letter to Jeanne (at Tassajara)," "To My Father," "Prayer to the Mother," "Backyard," "April Fool Birthday Poem for Grandpa," and "Minnesota Morning Ode."
Earth's Daughters, No. 7 (Winter, 1977). "To the Patriarchs."
Evergreen Review. No. 55 (June 1968). "Spring Thoughts for Freddie."
The Floating Bear. Bound vols. 1-37, La Jolla: Laurence McGilvery, 1973.
A Gathering of Poets, Maggie Anderson & Alex Gildzen, eds. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1992. "Brief Wyoming Meditation."
Harbin Quarterly. Spring 1992, "The Fires of Beltane."
Horoskop Orloje. Czech anthology with section by DiPrima.
Howl. January 24, 1990 and September 1991.
Liberation. 2 (December 1957). "Memories of Childhood."
Long News: In the Short Century. 1 (1991). "The Masque of. . .."
The Naked Ear. No. 11 (n.d.). "Love Pomes" [sic].
No More Masks! An Anthology of Poems by Women, Florence Howe and Ellen Bass, eds. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press, 1973. "April Fool Birthday Poem for Grandpa," "Narrow Path into the Back Country," "Poem in Praise of my Husband," and "The Quarrel."
Peace or Perish. Herman Berlandt and Neeli Cherkovski, eds. San Francisco: Poets for Peace, 1983. "Revolutionary Letter: June 12, 1982."
Pearl. No. 12 (Summer-Fall 1991). "Spontaneous Journal While Typesetting."
Poetry New York: A Journal of Poetry and Translation. No. 4 (Winter 1991/Spring 1992). "New York Poems."
The Poets Paper. No. 5 (November 10, 1981). "Poetry Festival 1981."
Scribimus. (Newsletter of Hunter High School) 1949-1951. Contains several works by di Prima.
Soup. 1980. "Two from One."
Straits: Newsletter of the Detroit River Press. 1 (September 1982). "Role of the Hermetic in Poetry."
The Sun Sets on Sunbonnet Sue. 1983. "Astrological Speculations of the Chaldeans," "The Dentist from L.A.," "Redoubtably Ambiguous," "Tara."
War Poems. New York: Poets Press, Inc., 1968. "Alba, for a Dark Year," "Goodbye Nkrumah," "Rant, from a Cool Place," "To the Unknown Buddhist Nun Who Burned Herself to Death on the Night of June 3, 1966."