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Born in Millville, New Jersey, Anne Waldman was raised on MacDougal Street in New York City's Greenwich Village, and received her B.A. from Bennington College in 1966. During the 1960s, Waldman became part of the East Coast poetry scene, in part through her engagement with the poets and artists loosely termed the Second Generation of the New York School. During this time, Waldman also made many connections with earlier generations of poets, including figures such as Allen Ginsberg, who once called Waldman his "spiritual wife." From 1966-1968, she served as Assistant Director of the Poetry Project at St. Mark's; and, from 1968–1978, she served as the Project's Director.
In the early 1960s, Waldman became a student of Buddhism. In the 1970s, along with Allen Ginsberg, she began to study with the Tibetan Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. While attending the Berkeley Poetry Conference in 1965, Waldman, with poet Lewis Warsh, was inspired to found Angel Hair, a small press that produced a magazine of the same name and a number of smaller books. It was while she was attending this conference that she first committed to poetry after hearing the Outrider poets. In 1974, with Trungpa, Ginsberg, and others, Waldman founded the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado (now Naropa University), where she remains a Distinguished Professor of Poetics and the Director of Naropa's celebrated Summer Writing Program.