Diane di Prima has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (1973 and 1979) and an honorary degree from St. Lawrence University (1999). She was a finalist for poet laureate of San Francisco in 2002 and 2005 before becoming the city’s fifth laureate in 2009, and she was a finalist for poet laureate of California in 2003. She has garnered such honors as the Secret Six Medal of Valor (1987), the National Poetry Association lifetime service award (1993), the Aniello Lauri Award for creative writing (1994), the Fred Cody Award for lifetime achievement (2006), and the Reginald Lockett Lifetime Achievement Award (2008). As a female member of the Beat generation, she has had to labor under the stereotype of “Beat chick,” characterized by Jack Kerouac as girls “who say nothing and wear black.” The last decades of the twentieth century brought a gradual revision of this stereotype and greater recognition for her work. Although her poems have received little academic or critical attention, they have attracted a growing number of devoted readers.
George F. Butterick has argued that di Prima’s greatest contribution to the poetry of her generation lies in her work as an organizer and editor/publisher, beginning with her collaboration on The Floating Bear, a monthly publication she published together with her occasional lover LeRoi Jones (who later changed his name to Amiri Baraka) in 1961 and for which she served as editor until 1969. Also in the 1960’s, she founded Poets Press, which published some thirty books of poetry and prose of such well-known figures as Herbert Huncke and Timothy Leary, as well as the anti-Vietnam War anthology War Poems (1968), edited by di Prima herself.
Even though di Prima has often been described as a minor constellation next to stars of the Beat generation such as Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Gregory Corso, her mature work since the 1970’s deserves critical attention. She is an important catalyst and chronicler of the bohemian counterculture of her generation. For more than half a century, despite sweeping changes that have transformed society, di Prima has remained true to many of the central tenets of radical thought as established by the Beats: rejection of government propaganda, exploration of mental and physical sensations, spirituality, spontaneity, and hope for a world free of constraints.