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.
Copyright has not been assigned to the University of Louisville; please consult a reference archivist for more information.
9.5 linear feet
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 paperScribimus. She then attended Swarthmore College for two years. She left college in 1953 to live in Manhattan with her lovers and to write fulltime. 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. Her 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).
Part of the University of Louisville Archives and Special Collections Repository