This is from the introduction:
The problem with fame is that one can seldom control what one’s famous for.
In literary history, this has proved true of the writers associated with the “Beat” movement of the 1950s-60s, none of whom, to a greater or lesser extent, has been able to fully emerge from the long shadow of the Beat era, even though most went on to have careers that extended far beyond that brief period, and produced writing that differs greatly from what they wrote during that time.
And this is especially true of Diane di Prima, current Poet Laureate of San Francisco. I first came to her poetry workshop in response to an ad she’d posted in Poetry Flash, the long-running East Bay poetics newspaper, sometime in 1998. I knew her as the striking young dark-haired woman sitting coyly on an unmade bed from the cover of her most famous book, Memoirs of a Beatnik—a text I had hurriedly gobbled up sometime during my undergraduate years, only later coming to realize how vastly underrated it was, a precursor to the explicit and experimental fiction of other women writers like Kathy Acker. Probably by then, while browsing the upstairs poetry room at City Lights, I had also seen the iconic image of Diane sitting astride a piano at the Gaslight, which remains a popular postcard along with other Beat icons in the carousel display at City Lights. I imagine many others know and recognize Diane di Prima the same way: As someone who was, vivaciously and authentically, there. It’s a reductive and limited view, but a mistake that’s easy to make given her strong association with that image, that book—even though, as I mention above, the more salacious episodes of Memoirs tend to obscure the subtle, subversive genius of the text. […]