Search more than 3,000 biographies of contemporary and classic poets.

Diane di Prima


Diane di Prima was born August 6, 1934, in Brooklyn, New York, the only daughter and eldest child of Francis and Emma di Prima.

Di Prima attended Hunter College High School in New York City, where she began writing. In 1951, she went to Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, but dropped out two years later to join the bohemian community in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, where she became a member of the Beat movement and developed friendships with John Ashbery, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Denise Levertov, and Frank O’Hara, among others. She would later document her experiences with Beat culture in 1950s New York in her well-known—and controversial—Memoirs of a Beatnik (Penguin, 1969).

In 1958, di Prima published her first book of poetry, This Kind of Bird Flies Backwards (Totem Press). Three years later, di Prima cofounded the New York Poets Theatre and became the coeditor of the mimeograph newsletter The Floating Bear with LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka). She remained the editor of the newsletter until 1969.

Di Prima, who frankly wrote about sexuality, feminism, class, and various aspects of the counterculture, was regularly targeted by the authorities for her radical content; in 1961, she was arrested by the FBI on the charge of publishing two allegedly obscene poems in The Floating Bear. The case was dismissed by a grand jury.

Ginsberg openly praised this same radical bent in di Prima’s work: “Diane di Prima, revolutionary activist of the 1960s Beat literary renaissance, heroic in life and poetics: a learned humorous bohemian, classically educated and twentieth-century radical, her writing, informed by Buddhist equanimity, is exemplary in imagist, political and mystical modes. … She broke barriers of race-class identity, delivered a major body of verse brilliant in its particularity.”

In 1964, di Prima, along with her first husband Alan Marlowe, founded the Poets Press, which published books by David Henderson, Clive Matson, Herbert Huncke, and Audre Lorde, who had gone to high school with di Prima.

In 1968, di Prima moved to California, where she taught at the New College of California, California College of Arts and Crafts, San Francisco Art Institute, and California Institute of Integral Studies. She was also one of the poets seminal in the founding of Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics.

Di Prima authored more than thirty collections of poetry, as well as plays, short stories, novels, nonfiction, and more. She received two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, and her work has been translated into more than twenty languages. In 2009, she was named the poet laureate of San Francisco.

She died on October 25, 2020, in San Francisco. 

Selected Bibliography


The Poetry Deal (City Lights Publishers, 2014)
Pieces of a Song: Selected Poems (City Lights Publishers, 1990)
Loba: Parts I-VIII (Wingbow Press, 1978)
Selected Poems: 1956-1976 (North Atlantic Books, 1977)
Poems for Freddie (Eidolon Editions, 1974)
Revolutionary Letters (City Lights Publishers, 1971)
The Book of Hours (Brownstone Press, 1970)
Earthsongs: Poems, 1957-1959 (Poets Press, 1968)
This Kind of Bird Flies Backwards (Totem Press, 1958)


Recollections of My Life as a Woman: The New York Years (Viking, 2001)
Memoirs of a Beatnik (Olympia Press, 1969)

Diane di Prima
Photo credit: Raven Chronicles online magazine

By This Poet


City Lights 1961

Going there for the first time
it was so much smaller then
that crowded downstairs full of poetry
racks of tattered little mags against the wall
those rickety white tables where folks sat reading/writing
Vesuvio’s was like an adjunct office

Arriving again a year later, two kids in tow
Lawrence gave me a huge stack of his publications
“I’ve got books” he said “like other people have mice”

And North Beach never stopped being mysterious
when I moved out here in 1968
that publishing office on Filbert & Grant was a mecca
a place to meet up with my kids if we got separated
during one of those innumerable demonstrations
(tho Lawrence worried, told me I shd keep them
out of harm’s way, at home) I thought they shd learn
whatever it was we were learning—
Office right around the corner from the bead store
where I found myself daily, picking up supplies

How many late nights did we haunt the Store
buying scads of new poems from all corners of the earth
then head to the all-night Tower Records full of drag queens
& revolutionaries, to get a few songs

And dig it, City Lights still here, like some old lighthouse
though all the rest is gone,
the poetry’s moved upstairs, the publishing office
right there now too       & crowds of people
one third my age or less still haunt the stacks
seeking out voices from all quarters
of the globe

Revolutionary Letter #1

I have just realized that the stakes are myself
I have no other
ransom money, nothing to break or barter but my life
my spirit measured out, in bits, spread over
the roulette table, I recoup what I can
nothing else to shove under the nose of the maitre de jeu
nothing to thrust out the window, no white flag
this flesh all I have to offer, to make the play with
this immediate head, what it comes up with, my move
as we slither over this go board, stepping always
(we hope) between the lines

Revolutionary Letter #3

store water; make a point of filling your bathtub
at the first news of trouble: they turned off the water
in the 4th ward for a whole day during the Newark riots;
or better yet make a habit
of keeping the tub clean and full when not in use
change this once a day, it should be good enough
for washing, flushing toilets when necessary
and cooking, in a pinch, but it’s a good idea
to keep some bottled water handy too
get a couple of five gallon jugs and keep them full
for cooking


store food—dry stuff like rice and beans stores best
goes farthest. SALT VERY IMPORTANT: it’s health and energy
healing too, keep a couple pounds
sea salt around, and, because we’re spoiled, some tins
tuna, etc. to keep up morale—keep up the sense
of ‘balanced diet’ ‘protein intake’ remember
the stores may be closed for quite some time, the trucks
may not enter your section of the city for weeks, you can cool it indefinitely


with 20 lb brown rice
20 lb whole wheat flour
10 lb cornmeal
10 lb good beans—kidney or soy
5 lb sea salt
2 qts good oil
dried fruit and nuts
add nutrients and a sense of luxury
to this diet, a squash or coconut
in a cool place in your pad will keep six months.


remember we are all used to eating less
than the ‘average American’ and take it easy
before we
ever notice we’re hungry the rest of the folk will be starving
used as they are to meat and fresh milk daily
and help will arrive, until the day no help arrives
and then you’re on your own.


hoard matches, we aren’t good
at rubbing sticks together any more
a tinder box is useful, if you can work it
don’t count on gas stove, gas heater
electric light
keep hibachi and charcoal, CHARCOAL STARTER a help
kerosene lamp and candles, learn to keep warm
with breathing
remember the blessed American habit of bundling

Related Poets