Diane di Prima Biography


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Diane di Prima was born in Brooklyn, New York, to first-generation Italian immigrants Francis di Prima and Emma Mallozzi di Prima. In interviews and in autobiographical writings, she emphasizes the strict, conservative upbringing to which a young girl of Italian ancestry was subjected during the 1930’s, the years of the Great Depression. She credits her anarchist grandfather, Domenico Mallozzi, with sowing the seeds for her subsequent rebellion against this confinement by taking her to anarchist rallies and reading the works of Dante to her. She began writing when she was seven years old and, by the age of fourteen, had already decided to become a poet. She enrolled at Swarthmore College in 1951, intending to major in theoretical physics. In 1953, she abandoned her academic career and moved to New York’s lower East Side, beginning her bohemian life as a poet and activist, and like her male counterparts, she freely experimented with sex and drugs. During this time, she met Ezra Pound, who—because of his public support for Italian dictator Benito Mussolini—had been institutionalized at St. Elizabeths Hospital, a mental institution in Washington, D.C., where she visited him several times. Pound found encouraging words for her fledgling attempts at poetry, and the two corresponded for some time.

A decisive factor in di Prima’s career was her introduction in 1957 to the founding members of the Beat generation, a group with whom she remained closely connected for the next decade. Indeed, di Prima is considered the most important female writer of the Beat generation and features prominently in every anthology of that group. In 1958, Totem Press (founded by Jones) published her first collection of poetry, This Kind of Bird Flies Backward, the...

(The entire section is 721 words.)