Anne Waldman was born in Millville, New Jersey, in 1945. Before her fifth birthday, her parents, John Waldman and Frances Waldman, moved to Greenwich Village. Her father encouraged her to read omnivorously, but she learned a special love of poetry from her mother, who translated the work of a Greek poet. Waldman graduated from the Friends Seminary High School, where she first read the work of the Beat poets, which, along with her parental influence, was instrumental in her decision to devote her life to poetry. Her studies at Bennington College further reinforced this dedication.
In 1965, while still enrolled in college, she traveled to California to participate in the Berkeley Poetry Conference. There, she met Allen Ginsberg, with whom she was to form a close literary alliance. After graduating from Bennington in 1966, Waldman became assistant director, and later director, of the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery in New York. In that capacity, between 1968 and 1978, she met many more of the Beat poets in person.
Also at the St. Mark’s Poetry Project, Waldman began to give high-energy public readings of her own work and became known as a pioneering performance poet. She published her first book, On the Wing, in 1968, and in 1975, her performance poem Fast-Speaking Woman was published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights.
In the same period, Waldman, whose interest in Eastern religion dates from high school, began to study with Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a meditation master of Tibetan Buddhism. In 1974, Waldman participated with Ginsberg, Trungpa, and others in founding the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. She later came to serve as a distinguished professor of poetics and director of Naropa’s Summer Writing Program. Her son Ambrose Bye is a musician with whom she frequently collaborates in poetry performances.
Overall, Waldman’s influence has served to extend the boundaries of poetry well beyond the printed page. As a performance poet, she combines in her work an intense political activism, strong feminism, a critique of all gender identity, extreme departure from conventional poetic forms, and ambitiously long poems embracing large subjects.