Minneapolis Center Stage

A number of us have just returned from Minneapolis. There we attended the Preconference of the Rare Books & Manuscripts Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association.

The preconference theme was performance in special collections, broadly interpreted—from the refectory use of the earliest printed books to medical texts and the operating theater, to hip-hop archives, to “bibliography in action.”

It was an appropriately lively gathering, and we pay tribute to it here by an eclectic selection of Minneapolis-centric works from the Rare Book Collection: the city as setting for poetic expression, criminal doings, and collective action—all being varieties of performance. We begin with a nice segway from our last blog post, “Sisters Outsider.”

Beats Folio PS615 .W67 no. 28, cover art by Alex Katz
Beats Folio PS615 .W67 no. 28, p. 20
Beats Folio PS615 .W67 no. 28, p. 20

Diane di Prima, “Waikiki Room, Minneapolis” in  World, no. 28 (May 1973), mimeographed publication of the famous Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church In-the-Bowery, New York. The Waikiki Room was a drinking/dining establishment located in a succession of Minneapolis hotels. Apparently, it made poet di Prima feel more at home in the Midwest; doesn’t everyone feel more at home in a Tiki room lounge?  St. Mark’s Church was, of course, the ultimate New York poetry performance venue of its era.

Mystery-Detective H921
Mystery-Detective H921

Ellen Hart, Death on a Silver Platter: (A Culinary Mystery) (New York : Fawcett Books, 2003), one in the series of mysteries featuring restaurant reviewer-sleuth Sophie Greenway, set in Minneapolis. The food in the fair city is a real draw: lots of farm to table, no scary servings as pictured on this paperback’s cover. In particular, French Meadow Café represented an outstanding dining act for some of us. And we didn’t feel threatened for one moment. Perhaps these Minneapolis mysteries are in the tradition of Scandinavian crime novels: safe societies longing for the drama of surprising violence.

William F. Dunne and Morris Childs, Permanent Counter-Revolution. The Role of the Trotzkyites in the Minneapolis Strikes (New York: Workers Library, [1934]), no. [8] in a vol. with binder’s title: Communist and Socialist Pamphlets. We all felt the power and plight of workers on Tuesday evening, taking in the exhibitions and film at the Mill City Museum, located in what was once the nation’s largest flour mill. This pamphlet on Depression-era strikes in Minneapolis pits the Communist Party of America against Minnesota’s Farmer-Labor Party and Trotzkyite leaders. Its card-carrying Communist authors are William F. Dunne, who grew up in Minnesota, and Morris Childs, who later would be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for Intelligence—in 1987—for his decades of work as an anti-Soviet secret agent. Although Childs was not working for the F.B.I. in 1934, the title of this writing—Permanent Counter-Revolution—ends our Minneapolis production with unexpected retrospective irony. As we’ve come to learn, however, rare books always bring us the unexpected.

HX40 .C6 no. 8
HX40 .C6 no. 8


Sisters Outsider: Diane di Prima and Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde, The First Cities (New York, 1968)  /            PS3562 .O75 F5 1968

UNC’s Rare Book Collection has extensive holdings of twentieth-century print materials, many of which provide insights into literary friendships, partnerships, and circles. History has placed the poets Diane di Prima and Audre Lorde in separate camps—di Prima with the Beat Generation and Lorde with the Black feminist movement. However, the RBC’s rich Beat holdings tell a very different story.

Di Prima and Lorde were both born in 1934 and attended Hunter College High School in Manhattan. As teenagers they were close friends. According to Alexis De Veaux, together they “wrote poetry and skipped classes. . . . They held séances, burned candles, and ‘called up the poets.’” The two young women later went their separate ways. Lorde stayed on in New York City and earned her bachelor’s degree at Hunter College. Di Prima went to Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, dropping out in 1953 to return and join the bohemian scene in Greenwich Village. In the ten-year period after 1958, di Prima published five volumes of poetry and founded Poets’ Press with her husband Alan Marlowe. Lorde published sparingly but gained a reputation as an important up-and-coming young poet. In an interview with Adrienne Rich, Lorde recalled di Prima urging her to publish her poetry and saying, “You know, it’s time you had a book. . . . You have to print these. Put ’em out.”

Audre Lorde, The First Cities (New York, 1968) / PS3562 .O75 F5 1968

Lorde followed her advice and prepared to publish her premier volume, The First Cities, with di Prima’s Poets’ Press. In 1967, while the book was in production, di Prima was pregnant with her second child. On Christmas Eve she went into labor in her Greenwich Village apartment and called on Lorde, who arrived just in time to deliver the baby. In her introduction to The First Cities, di Prima memorializes this event and their sustained friendship:

I have known Audre Lorde since we were fifteen,
when we read our poems to each other in our Home
Room at Hunter High school. And only two months
ago she delivered my child.

A woman’s world, peopled with men & children
and the dead, exotic as scallops.

“Diane di Prima and Audre Lorde read at Intersection” (San Francisco) / PS3507.I15 Z58 1970z / Lawrence Foushee London Fund

The two women continued to support each other’s work over the next decade, as evidenced by a broadside advertising a poetry reading they performed together in the 1970s. In 1974 di Prima founded another press called Eidolon Editions. Lorde sent her seven poems, which Eidolon Editions published as Between Our Selves in 1977. The cover shows a West African Adinkra symbol of Siamese crocodiles.

Audre Lorde, Between Our Selves (Point Reyes, 1976) / PS3562.O525 B4

Both di Prima and Lorde wrote from marginalized points of view and were on the outside of mainstream literary culture. These material examples of their alliance attest to their efforts to promote themselves and each other in a literary landscape dominated by male voices. Such intersections cannot be understood by reading individual poems isolated in anthologies or in collected works. The original, often ephemeral, editions to be found at the RBC demonstrate in a tangible way how poets work to create communities of poets.