This biographical article is written like a résumé. (September 2015)
Curl was born in New York City and grew up in Manhattan and rural New Jersey. His family was working class, a mixture of Irish-Catholic, English-Protestant, and Romanian-Austrian Jew. He attended CCNY, with a semester at the Sorbonne, and earned a bachelor's degree in Comparative Literature.
He has lived in Berkeley, California since 1971 with his wife Jill, a librarian, and has worked as a professional woodworker at Heartwood Cooperative Woodshop since 1974. Involved in the cooperative movement in the Bay Area since the early 1970s, he was a founding member of the InterCollective and an editor of the Collective Directory (1981-85). He is longtime chairman of West Berkeley Artisans and Industrial Companies (WEBAIC), promoting art and industrial zoning, has served as a Berkeley planning commissioner, and is a founding member of the Indigenous Peoples' Day Committee, which organizes the annual Berkeley Pow Wow. He is a longtime board member of PEN Oakland and PEN Center USA.
His best known book is probably his history of the cooperative and communalist movements, For All The People: Uncovering the Hidden History of Cooperation, Cooperative Movements, and Communalism in America (PM Press, 2009), which historian Howard Zinn described as "inspiring." Memories of Drop City (2007) is his memoir of the 1960s communal movement and the first "hippie" commune, in Colorado, where he lived between 1966-69, which Ishmael Reed called "highly crafted and brilliant," and Al Young described as "compelling." His play The Trial of Christopher Columbus was produced by the PEN Oakland Writers Theater in Berkeley (2009).
He is author of seven books of poetry, including Scorched Birth (2004), which former San Francisco poet laureate Jack Hirschman called "a book of wonders." His poetry books include Columbus in the Bay of Pigs (1991); Decade (1987); and Tidal News (1982); and has published poems in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Words Upon the Waters, Oakland Out Loud, Blake Times, Left Curve, Central Park, Poetry USA, Anthology of East Bay Poets, Poetry Flash, and Pulse of the People. He was a member of the San Francisco Cloud House circle of poets in the 1980s. In 1975 his series of 22 Wall Poems in spray paint and broadsides were published in Insurrection/Resurrection. He was co-host of Poetry for the People radio show on KPOO San Francisco, 1979-1980. He edited Red Coral, a web zine, between 1999 and 2003. He represented the USA at the World Poetry Festival in Caracas, Venezuela, in 2010. Poet Mary Rudge called him "a Master Poet who uses language in a remarkable, innovative way, he gives us information on contradictions in the evolving state of human consciousness." An anthology of his poetry translated into Spanish by Rei Berroa was scheduled to be published by Editorial el Perro y la Rana (Caracas) in 2011.
His study of American Indian languages, beginning with Navajo at the Tohajiilee Indian Reservation in New Mexico, led to his translations in Ancient American Poets (2005) of three poets of ancient Indigenous America: Flower Songs by Nezahualcoyotl (Nahuatl-Aztec), Songs of Dzitbalche by Ah Bam (Yucatec Maya), and The Sacred Hymns of the Situa by Pachacuti (Quechua-Inca), along with biographies of the poets. Some of these translations are featured on the web site of FAMSI (Foundation for the Advancement of Meso-American Studies, Inc.), which is scheduled to merge into the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) web site. His transcriptions of Pachacuti poems form the libretto for classical composer Tania León's Ancient (2009).
A second expanded edition of For All The People, with a new foreword by Ishmael Reed, was published by PM Press in 2012. Curl's collected poems, Revolutionary Alchemy, with a foreword by San Francisco poet laureate Jack Hirschman, came out that same year. Hirschman wrote: "The importance of this book and John Curl in the pantheon of revolutionary poets... Revolutionary Alchemy is a book of major importance. John Curl has earned a place--with this book of poems--among the foremost revolutionary American poets since the end of WW2."