Di Prima was born in Brooklyn and attended Swarthmore College before dropping out to be a poet in Manhattan. Her official online biography notes that she is "a second generation American of Italian descent" and that "Her maternal grandfather, Domenico Mallozzi, was an active anarchist, and associate of Carlo Tresca and Emma Goldman." Di Prima began writing as a child and by the age of 19 was corresponding with Ezra Pound and Kenneth Patchen. Her first book of poetry, This Kind of Bird Flies Backward was published in 1958 by Hettie and LeRoi Jones' Totem Press.
Involvement with the Beats
Di Prima spent the late 1950s and early 1960s in Manhattan, where she participated in the emerging Beat movement. She spent some time in California at Stinson Beach and Topanga Canyon, returned to New York City and eventually moved to San Francisco permanently. Di Prima was a bridge figure between the Beat movement and the later hippies, as well as between East Coast and West Coast artists. She edited The Floating Bear with Amiri Baraka and was co-founder of the New York Poets Theatre and founder of the Poets Press. In 1966, she spent some time at Millbrook with Timothy Leary's psychedelic community and printed the first two editions of "Psychodelic Prayers" by Leary in Spring 1966. In 1969, she wrote a fictionalized, erotic account detailing her experience in the Beat movement titled Memoirs of a Beatnik. From 1974 to 1997, Di Prima taught Poetry at The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, of the Naropa Institute in Boulder Colorado, sharing the program with fellow Beats Allen Ginsberg (Co-founder of the program), William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, and others. In 2001, she published Recollections of My Life as a Woman: The New York Years.
In the late 1960s, she moved permanently to California, where she has lived ever since. Here, Di Prima became involved with the Diggers and studied Buddhism, Sanskrit, Gnosticism and alchemy. She also published her major work, the long poem Loba, in 1978, with an enlarged edition in 1998. Her selected poems, Pieces of a Song, was published in 1990 and a memoir, Recollections of My Life as a Woman, in 2001. She is also a prose writer, memoirist, playwright, social justice activist and teacher. Di Prima has authored nearly four dozen books, with her work translated into more than 20 languages. In 2009, Di Prima was named the Poet Laureate of San Francisco. A movement is currently underway to have a street in the city named in her honor.
Di Prima is the mother of five children, Jeanne Di Prima, Dominique Di Prima, Alex Marlowe, Tara Marlowe, and Rudi Di Prima.