Diane di Prima: Biography
Diane di Prima was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1934, a second generation American of Italian descent. Her maternal grandfather, Domenico Mallozzi, was an active anarchist, and associate of Carlo Tresca and Emma Goldman. She began writing at the age of seven, and committed herself to a life as a poet at the age of fourteen.
She lived and wrote in Manhattan for many years, where she became known as an important writer of the Beat movement. During that time she co-founded the New York Poets Theatre, and founded the Poets Press, which published the work of many new writers of the period. Together with Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) she edited the literary newsletter, The Floating Bear (1961-1969). In 1966 she moved to upstate New York where she participated in Timothy Leary’s psychedelic community at Millbrook.
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. In the 1970’s she began her epic poem Loba. of which Parts 1-8 were published in 1978. From 1980 to 1987, she taught Hermetic and esoteric traditions in poetry, in a short-lived but significant Masters-in-Poetics program at New College of California, which she established together with poets Robert Duncan and David Meltzer. She has also taught at California College of Arts and Crafts, and the San Francisco Art Institute. She was one of the co-founders of San Francisco Institute of Magical and Healing Arts (SIMHA), where she taught Western spiritual traditions from 1983 to 1992.
She is the author of 43 books of poetry and prose, including Pieces of a Song (City Lights, 1990). Her work has been translated into at least 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.
A Loba: Books I & II (twice as much material as the 1978 Wingbow Press edition) was published in the Penguin Poets Series in August 1998. Her autobiographical memoir, Recollections of My Life as a Woman, was published by Viking in April 2001. Recent poetry chapbooks include Towers Down (with Clive Matson), published by Eidolon Editions in 2002; The Ones I Used to Laugh With, Habenicht Press, San Francisco, 2003, and TimeBomb, Eidolon Editions 2006.
Diane lives and writes in San Francisco, where she teaches private classes and workshops and does individual consultations on writing and creativity.
Diane di Prima has also worked as a photographer and collagist since the 1960s, and been a watercolorist for the past ten years. She has had four solo art shows, and her work in various genres has been in many group shows. One of her most popular workshops has been "Word and Image" in which she teaches ways to combine the written word and the painted or photographic image.
An expanded edition of Revolutionary Letters, with 23 new political poems from the past 2 decades has just been published by Last Gasp Press of San Francisco. Opening to the Poem, a book of exercises and essays on poetics will soon be available from Penguin.
Other works in progress include The Poetry Deal: Poems from the 1980s and 90s; Death Poems for All Seasons; Alchemical Studies (poetry); Not Quite Buffalo Stew, a surreal novel about California life; The Mysteries of Vision, a book of essays on H.D.; and One Too Like Thee, a study of Shelley's use of traditional Western magic in his life and work.
In 2009, she was named the Poet Laureate of San Francisco and in 2006 received the Fred Cody Award for Lifetime Achievement and community service. She has also been the recipient of numerous awards including an honorary Doctor of Literature degree from St. Lawrence University in 1999 and a 1993 Lifetime Service Award from the National Poetry Association. She has received grants from the Lapis Foundation, the National Endowment n the Arts, the Committee on Poetry, and the Institute for Aesthetic Development. In 2000 she lived in Chicago for several months, while serving for a semester at Columbia College as Master Poet in Residence.