The Poets Press: Diane Di Prima, Publishing, and Queer Community Building

Sunday, January 5, 2020: 2:10 PM
Regent Room (New York Hilton)
Danielle Dumaine, University of Connecticut
Poet, playwright, and memoirist Diane di Prima operated The Poets Press out of a series of apartments in New York City between 1965 and 1969. Although it was a short-lived project, she managed to publish not only her own work, but that of Audre Lorde, Timothy Leary, A.B. Spellman, and others. Alongside her literary journal, The Floating Bear, which she published on and off for over ten years with Amiri Baraka, the Poets Press was a way to showcase the work of friends and peers and to create community together through the shared work of typesetting, collating, and binding texts. As historians and scholars of literature have documented, artists and performers, di Prima included, used Cold War anxieties over cultural production to make a case for their right to the city and to organize themselves in fights against loft evictions, coffeehouse laws, and obscenity trials. What is less known, however, is how self-publishing and independent publishing bound together members of mid-century avant-garde literary movements; the counterculture; anti-war, Black Power, and Black Arts activists, and a number of influential queer performers from the Judson Dance Theater through mutual financial support and creative collaboration while creating a space for work by and about same-sex relationships and desires. Utilizing published Poets Press works, unpublished manuscripts, correspondence, and di Prima’s diaries, this paper will explore di Prima’s publishing work within the context of the small-press movement of the 1950s and 1960s and explore the ways in which printing and promoting the work of others constituted a form of queer family making for di Prima. Overall, this paper will appeal to those interested in the history of sexuality after World War II, domesticity, urban life, and postwar letters and arts.