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Diane di Prima (1934–2020), feminist Beat poet

by Linnea Crowther

Diane di Prima was a poet of the Beat Generation, one of the last surviving members of that famed group of poets.

New York and San Francisco

Di Prima got her start in Greenwich Village after dropping out of Swarthmore College to become a poet. There, she joined fellow Beats including Jack Kerouac (1922–1969) and Allen Ginsberg (1926–1997), bringing a feminist sensibility to a poetry scene that was largely male. Her debut poetry collection was “This Kind of Bird Flies Backward,” published in 1958, followed by more than two dozen collections over the years. Di Prima’s masterwork was the “Loba,” an epic poem published in several installments beginning in 1973 and often described as a feminist answer to Ginsberg’s famous “Howl.” Her prose works included 1969’s “Memoirs of a Beatnik.” Di Prima moved to San Francisco in 1968, making her home there and ultimately being named the city’s poet laureate in 2009.

Di Prima on her choice to become a poet

“The things I now leave behind . . . leaving the quiet unquestioned living and dying, the simple one-love-and-marriage, children, material pleasures, easy securities. I am leaving the houses I will never own. Dishwashers. Carpets. Dull respect of dull neighbors. None of this matters really. I have already seen it all for the prison it is.” —from di Prima’s memoir

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Tributes to Diane di Prima

Full obituary: San Francisco Chronicle

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