6 Places Where the Beats Hung Out

The world was a different place in post-war America. Suburbs were scant, malls were unheard of, and the nation was divided into either cities or farms. At that time, the group of writers known as the Beat Generation were just coalescing. They cavorted around the country in beat-up jalopies, smoking “tea” and getting drunk off of jazz and life. Although it may seem like an entirely different world, some of the establishments that birthed their creative spark are still in existence: Continue Reading…

The Beats Gave Birth to Modern Hipsters

The generally accepted definition of the word “hipster” in 2017 is a young, non-traditional, counter-culture person who is an independent thinker, believes in progressive politics, and appreciates art and underground music. Typically, it has a pejorative slant. It refers to people who like to think of themselves as trend-setters, but are actually slaves to fashion as much as anyone – if not more so than the rest of us.

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New Beat Generation Books 2017

Later this month, Cambridge University Press is releasing The Cambridge Companion to the Beats, which features essays by Jonah Raskin, Regina Weinreich, Nancy Grace, Erik Mortenson, Kurt Hemmer, Oliver Harris, Brenda Knight, Hillary Holladay, Ronna Johnson, Polina MacKay, and others. From the Amazon listing:

Consummate innovators, the Beats had a profound effect not only on the direction of American literature, but also on models of socio-political critique that would become more widespread in the 1960s and beyond. Bringing together the most influential Beat scholars writing today, this Companion provides a comprehensive exploration of the Beat movement, asking critical questions about its associated figures and arguing for their importance to postwar American letters.

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When was ‘Beat’ First Written?

On this blog, we’ve previously discussed the surprisingly difficult question of what the Beat Generation was, and later, what the difference is between Beats and Beatniks. Yet actually pinning down the meaning of the word “Beat,” an adjective used by the likes Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William S. Burroughs in the forties and fifties, is not so difficult. Its etymology is well-documented – although, as with so much Beat lore, there are numerous errors in popular sources. It originated in “hepcat” speak, most likely passed from the underground world to the Columbia world through Herbert Huncke. Continue Reading…

Joan Anderson Letter Goes to Auction… Again

In 2014, the world of Beat Studies was rocked by the discovery of the Joan Anderson letter. Believed lost at sea until that point, the letter was the Holy Grail of our field. Its role in Beat history was considered by many as of key importance. Its influence on the literary style of Jack Kerouac was believed to be massive.  Continue Reading…

In the above video, Beatdom Books author John Tytell talks with Martin Torgoff, whose new book, Bop Apocalypse, explores jazz, drugs, and Beat literature.

Tytell is the author of The Beat Interviews and his next book, Beat Transnationalism, will be released later this year.

Buddhists and Dharma Bums

Sometime in the early 1950s, the Beat Generation helped bring Buddhism to the West, or at least they popularized it and expanded its influence. The world saw them as obscene hipsters who eschewed responsibility, but they viewed themselves as roamers of America and characters of a special spirituality.[1] At least for Kerouac and Ginsberg, Beat had a quasi-religious connotation.

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The Flying Dutchman:

An Overview of LeRoi Jones’ Greatest Commentary on the Struggle of the Black Man and Racial Relations in Post-World War America

Before Amiri Baraka changed his name, he was LeRoi Jones: poet, playwright, and husband to Hettie Cohen, a white Jewish woman. Together LeRoi and Hettie edited the avant-garde literary magazine Yugen, which later published such literary icons as the Beat Generation’s Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. The couple’s relationship strained as Jones fell in with the ideology of Malcolm X, breaking away from the Beat Generation and into movements such as Black Nationalism and the Black Arts Movement. Baraka’s play Dutchman, written as LeRoi Jones, opened at Cherry Lane Theatre in New York City on March 24, 1964 to intriguing acclaim for an off-Broadway production. This initial production sparked the beginning of Baraka’s revolutionary immersion into Black Nationalism, political theatre, and the eventual name change from LeRoi Jones to Amiri Baraka. Dutchman examines race relations in post-World War America and also commentates on the relationship between white women and black men and the implicit stereotypes presented. Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman presents the suffering of the Black man in America in order to emphasize an illicit political agenda that caters to Black Nationalism. Continue Reading…

World Citizen: How Politics Shaped the Travels of Allen Ginsberg, and How Travel Shaped his Politics

This essay first appeared in Beatdom #17, which you can find on Amazon.

As a child, Allen Ginsberg didn’t get to travel much; however, that wasn’t particularly unusual. Although the motorcar was becoming popular with the middle classes around the time he was born, and would boom in popularity during his childhood, most travel was still conducted within a relatively short distance of the family home. Route 66 was established five months after Ginsberg’s birth, connecting Chicago with California, and making it possible for Americans to drive across the continent, but due to the Great Depression and World War II, intercity car travel actually decreased between 1930 and 1944. Great leaps in transportation were making the world a smaller place, but young Allen only travelled as far as Belmar Beach, in New Jersey during his childhood. His father, Louis, didn’t travel abroad until 1967 – 19 years after his son’s first steps on foreign soil.

How, then, did he end up becoming such a renowned traveler, visiting almost 60 countries and visiting every continent except Antarctica?[1] Continue Reading…

Review: The Best Minds of My Generation

There are so many books about the Beat Generation that focus on the writers’ roles as rebels and “literary outlaws,” who break with convention and reject all the old ways. They are portrayed as angry young men and outsiders in life and literature. This view is not entirely incorrect, but in The Best Minds of My Generation, a collection of Allen Ginsberg lectures edited into a coherent book form by Bill Morgan, we are presented with a very different view of the Beats. Continue Reading…