Date of Completion
Diane di Prima, Beats, Women's History, Sexuality, Poetry, Celebrity
Field of Study
Doctor of Philosophy
Diane di Prima (b. 1934) is a poet, playwright, and memoirist. She is often regarded as the most famous women writer of the Beat Generation. Over her decades-long career, she has published over 40 books of poetry and prose, as well as a memoir and several plays. While her affiliation with the Beats is important for understanding her place in the history of American culture and literature, this dissertation argues that di Prima’s significance is not limited to that one group. Rather, she was a key figure in the avant-garde theater and dance scenes of New York City in the 1950s and 1960s. And as a publisher, she published and promoted the work of a wide variety of poets. She also figured prominently in the San Francisco counterculture and Timothy Leary’s Millbrook community.
Selling Herself traces how Diane di Prima supported herself as a poet and publisher amid the rapid changes to American capitalism, politics, and life, between 1953 and 1971. In doing so, I ask how and why ideas of celebrity, literary success, failure, countercultures, and identity, changed in the second half of the twentieth century in concert with the rise of the consumer’s republic, social justice movements, and Cold War domestic policy. In particular, it argues that after WWII, the coalescing of postwar affluence, Cold War policy, and identity politics, made it possible for certain types of people – in this story, literary celebrities, and countercultural leaders – to market themselves to the public, grant-making institutions, universities, and the state. Selling Herself demonstrates how this relationship acted a negotiation between creator, consumer, publishers, and the media. I argue that through this period, public figures like di Prima – could reinvent themselves many times over, to suit their needs and desires of the public, raising questions about the expectations of authenticity and confession from the artist in the mid-century. It also reveals that who was able to take the best advantage of this system, depended on a system of access shaped by ideas of race, and gender, and sexuality.
Dumaine, Danielle, "Selling Herself: Diane di Prima, Desire, and Commodity in the Postwar United States" (2020). Doctoral Dissertations. 2478.
Available for download on Saturday, April 27, 2030