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Memoirs of a Beatnik

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  2,767 ratings  ·  159 reviews
Long regarded as an underground classic for its gritty and unabashedly erotic portrayal of the Beat years, Memoirs of a Beatnik is a moving account of a powerful woman artist coming of age sensually and intellectually in a movement dominated by a small confederacy of men, many of whom she lived with and loved. Filled with anecdotes about her adventures in New York City, Di ...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published August 1st 1998 by Penguin Books (first published 1969)
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On the Road by Jack KerouacHowl and Other Poems by Allen GinsbergThe Dharma Bums by Jack KerouacNaked Lunch by William S. BurroughsJunky by William S. Burroughs
Beat Lit
205 books — 168 voters
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150 books — 15 voters

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Average rating 3.72  · 
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 ·  2,767 ratings  ·  159 reviews

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Jan 07, 2008 rated it it was ok
What I wanted was to know what it was like for a woman to be part of such an amazing scene and time, what I got was a lot of unsavory descriptions of casual sex with multiple partners. I had no idea I'd become such a prude. ...more
M.F. Soriano
Oct 12, 2010 rated it really liked it
A schizophrenic book, with two distinct personalities: hardcore smut and bohemian memoir. It starts out on the smutty side--the first three chapters are basically quick set-ups for sex scenes--and the sex is written about in classic porno style (lots of lines like "I took his huge, throbbing cock into my hungry, wet pussy."). Fun to read, though I didn't find it erotic enough to actually get my blood moving. What kept me reading was the other side of the story, those glimpses of bohemian life, o ...more
May 08, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, read-2010, memoir
Sometimes evocative, mostly just depressingly bad. There's an unpleasant whiff of internalized misogyny in di Prima's digressions about birth control, sex, and unconventional domestic arrangements. Her work as a poet and writer are left totally vague during the years she spent in Manhattan. Kerouac and Ginsberg are trotted out like caricatures.

This fictionalized autobiography could have been so interesting. A female poet's perspective on the proto-beatnik scene of 1950's New York is a rarity; I
Aug 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
I laugh at all the negative reviews of the book because all they saw was a pornographic novel, which is true, because that is what is was written as. But there is stuff hidden beneath the surface that you really don't notice until the last chapter. This was a woman who was beat outside of the beats for a long time. She was someone outside of Kerouac and Ginsberg's circle, so she wasn't even aware the was a thing called Beat until she read Howl. But most of the sex was written just to satisfy her ...more
Aug 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who went through a beat phase, pseudobohemians, horny degenerates, anthropologists
Kind of awesome. Absolutely LOADED with high-detail explicit polyeverything sex, but in a way that irks me a whole lot less than Henry Miller (because it's not ragingly sexist, funny that) or even Anais Nin (because it's not as oooh and aahhh about the whole thing). It's also (mostly, except for a couple of really awful incidents) really quite hot, and an interesting look at the whole having-sex-with-your-friends-in-the-bushes impulse that artsy types tend to get sometimes.

Note that Di Prima wro
Mar 06, 2013 rated it it was ok
This book is 80% hyped up erotica (which becomes fairly predictable after the first couple chapters, boring even) and 20% reality. It is worth reading for that 20%, the glimpse through the keyhole of how the Beat artists, poets, writers and actors lived in 1950s New York City, in all its splendid grittiness. There are intriguing paragraphs about foraging for wood to burn in dumpy West-side apartments, subsisting on vats of oatmeal, stale bread and endless cups of sweet, milky coffee, sleeping fo ...more
Suad Shamma
Apr 27, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: own, 2013
I am going to make this short and sweet. I absolutely hated this book. I am far from being a prude, but the content of this book was neither worth my time nor money and I was majorly disappointed that it could even be called a memoir - of a beatnik no less. How interesting, I thought. The feminist in me thought how interesting it would be to read about beatniks from a woman's perspective. Diane Di Prima is not someone I ever want to read or know anything about.

Here's how one reviewer put it best
Jul 11, 2013 rated it did not like it
The title caught my eye in the secondhand bookstore. I've never really understood what a beatnik was, beyond vaguaries like counter culture, poetry and erm wearing black turtlenecks. I turned to the forward of the book in which the author recalls being asked by a student after she gave a poetry reading in the late 60s 'whatever happened to all the beatniks?' She replied something along the lines of, well sweety some of us sold out and became hippies. This confused me. Wasn't the hippy movement, ...more
Mérita Selimi
May 16, 2012 rated it it was ok
I really expected her to show us what is was like to be part of such an inspirational movement, time, city... It's a shame she only writes a few words about it in the last third of the book.
Nov 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
this book is very bohemian and smutty, and i am loving it very much. If you're into beat literature, erotic literature, feminist literature, then read this. It's amazing. ...more
Mallory (The Local Muse)
This and more @ The Local Muse
Buckle you seat-belts, it's going to be a wild ride of sexism and bohemianism.

If you are unaware, Diane di Prima is a poet who wrote during the Beatnik movement in America. For more information on the movement you can read my Literary Look linked above, but it took place during the late 50s to early 60s. The Beats are comparable to modern day hipsters, expect they did a lot of drugs and couch surfing. They were the ultimate bohemians and wrote about their real expe
Aug 19, 2013 rated it it was ok
If you want to read a novel that is pretty much purely pornographic, then you will love this book. It is incredibly well-written and di Prima has a serious knack for descriptive imagery. I went into this novel thinking I would be reading about the overall life experiences of a female beatnik, not just the sexual life experiences. Thus, I was vastly disappointed with Memoirs of a Beatnik. However, what saved this book from a 1 star rating, were the few passages that were amazing descriptions of t ...more
Terrie Schweitzer
Aug 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
There was something unsettling to me about this book, and I finally honed in on what it was when I got to the very end, in author's afterward. So I'm glad the edition I had included this.

This is the memoir of a Beat-then-Hippie poet and writer, centering on the Beat years in New York. It's certainly entertaining, though not as satisfying as, say, Patti Smith's Just Kids, which it reminded me of in some respects (it's the story of being a poor artist in Manhattan).

This book landed in front of me
Sammy Ginsberg
Mar 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Memoirs of a Beatnik by Diane di Prima was not what I expected it to be, it was far better. For some reason – classic hipster – I thought it would be reminiscent of Jack Kerouac or Allen Ginsburg.

It was not.

It was it’s own completely unique, beautiful voice, it was a thunderous epiphany of a female and passion, it was cacophonous melancholy and life, it was Diane di Prima.

And she lived. SHE LIVED! She truly dangled her female figure over New York City and absorbed its creative, innovative vision
Debbie Hoskins
This is such a pornographic book, but wonderfully written. I read it aloud to my current husband when we were in that first or second year of lust over the phone. I actually got to see Diane Di Prima at ALA in San Francisco, 2001. She was really cool. She did a very nice reading. At this same time I was reading _Recollections of My Life as a Woman_. I told her, I really enjoyed the book. I'll do a review on that one, also. It's very wise and brilliant. Anyway she wanted to sign that one, but it ...more
Aug 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Honestly, I enjoyed this book. Yes, it was frustrating that it wasn't more focused on what it was like to be a woman beatnik and the world surrounding her, but I thought the book was pretty well written and it kept me engaged. The sex scenes were plenty and I genuinely enjoyed reading them and thought that the sex scenes were part of what made this a strong feminist novel. Yes, her ideas of birth control and male and female roles in the household were outdated, but her blunt ideas on polygamy an ...more
Jul 04, 2009 rated it liked it
I was really happy to read a book by a FEMALE beatnik, and although I liked it, I was disappointed in that I hoping she would turn out to be a genius. I was amused by the way in which she freely and frequently talked about sex every chance she got and then some, because I always appreciate sex-positiveness wherever it seems relevant. I was also kind of disappointed that she wasn't as literary (is that the right word for "writes a lot of books"?) as most of her male contemporaries. ...more
Maggie Fay
May 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
I stumbled upon this title while wending my way through wikipedia. It was great. A 200+ page orgy. Very well written sex scenes, which is no small feat. Typical beat stuff, I thought, and I love that stuff: food, sex, poverty, crumby New York apartments. It made me feel more alive, or made me wish I felt as alive as Diane Diprima in the 1950s.
Feb 23, 2009 rated it liked it
I think what is most important reading this book is reading it in the context of when it was written. By today's standards it is alternately pompous, annoying, and bordering on romance novel-bad writing. But if you take it for the groundbreaking bad assitude that it was in the 50s, its a much better work of art. ...more
Oct 19, 2009 rated it it was ok
I had high hopes for this book, but I am sadly disappointed with it. Apparently being a female Beatnik meant having as much sex with as many different people in as many different ways as you possibly can. This book is basically porn that's been gussied up a little and called 'Beat'. ...more
Amber Tucker
I want to reread this to better integrate my feelings about it, and hopefully I'll remember to update this review and change or justify four stars when I get around to that second reading.

Just a side note: Someone I worked with told me recently that when studying at Naropa he knew personally not only Diane di Prima, my true-blue Beat goddess of a woman making the goddamn 1970s patriarchy work for her while also being Her Own Babe--yeah, but he also met Allen Ginsberg, Patti Smith, Anne Waldman,
Jan 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: beat-poets
A very entertaining look at the Beat lifestyle before anyone actually called it that (or used the derogatory term 'beatnik'). Di Prima was living and writing about her bohemian lifestyle around the same time Jack Kerouac, James Clellon Holmes, and others were doing the living that they also would later write about (Kerouac shows up in this memoir, and you can guess what he and di Prima wind up doing).

Unlike Kerouac (and more like Clellon Holmes), di Prima makes no effort to glorify what she's do
I have to say that although my initial opinion of this book was not high; I ended up enjoying this book a great deal. The sex scenes end up being almost a joke and later I found out it was because the publisher made her put in more and more and more sex. (Read the notes at the end) She desperately needed the money so she did what the publisher wanted. Minus the gratuitous sex, this book is actually a pretty interesting account of what was happening in 1950's and 60's New York. It seems to mostly ...more
Seth Kupchick
Jun 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I'm sitting in a coffee shop and just finished Di Prima's memoirs, and want to say how much I enjoyed this book. I've read a lot of reviews of it on goodreads putting it down as being second rate smut and how Di Prima wrote it merely for money, since she say's her publisher wanted MORE SEX in the afterword, but this is a vital pulsing book of a generation. It's impossible to imagine "Memoirs of a Beatnik" without all of the sex, since that was a vital component to the life Di Prima was living. I ...more
Caroline Smith
Jun 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
This was more like a memoir of all the people she slept with in the 50's, and it's kinda unfortunate that this is because of her editor at the time. I found myself skipping through the weirdly written smut (please just use the word clit, Diane!!! Euphemisms are for fanfic), as the rest of the book was pretty interesting. It didn't, however, create a very complete picture of what it was like to live the beat life. The fair few scenes that did convey what her beatnik life was like were interesting ...more
Lea Dokter
Oct 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
A fascinating insight into the workings of the Beatnik generation through a woman's eyes. Through sex DiPrima expresses the melancholic, passionate vibrations of the American counterculture movement of the 50's and 60's. ...more
Jan 24, 2020 rated it liked it
And so they would come, each of them the same, but all of them different... And they would clamber half-clothed, hastily, into bed, or sit on the blankets and talk me awake, or they would have brought up some grass or some wine, and I would watch, tousled and sleepy, while they made a fire. There would be the B-Minor Mass to fuck to, or Bessie Smith, and we would have a moon, and open window breezes off the river, or dank, chilly greyness and rain beating down, bouncing off the windowsill in bri ...more
Jan 27, 2021 added it
Damn I have to re-read this some time
Craig Werner
May 11, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: womens-lit
Three points to begin:
1. The one star is for the publishing industry, not for Diane di Prima. I highly recommend her fierce political poetry, especially Revolutionary Letters, and her real memoir, Recollections as My Life as a Woman, which includes the class sixties section, "The Holidays at Millbrook," a devastating picture of the sexual hypocrisy of the scene surrounding Timothy Leary.
2. If you do read the book, start with, in order,"The Afterword: Writing Memoirs" and the back-to-back section
Sara Diana
Dec 16, 2017 rated it liked it
I don't even know what to rate this book. Nevertheless, it feels important.

"It was as if the weather and I were in complete agreement. I sat there, drinking it in, feeling for the first time in my life how much turbulence I could contain in quiet, what endurance was, being cleansed by the purity, the pure fury of the elements."
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Diane di Prima was an American poet and member of the Beat Generation. She was San Francisco’s poet laureate from 2009 to 2011.

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