The Beat Generation was an important literary and cultural movement and, as such, it is often taught and studied in educational institutions around the world. Students from middle school to university are writing reports and essays on books like Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, and barely a week goes by that I don’t receive an e-mail from a curious student asking my opinion on the direction of their studies or looking for information about an obscure character in a Kerouac novel. While I’m happy to answer any questions about the Beats, I thought I’d put together a short guide for students just beginning their Beat studies.
Firstly, when you begin studying the Beat Generation, you will want to have a focused topic in mind. A lot of students these days want to write about, for example, the women of the Beat Generation, or the Beats and ecology. Many students ask me what they should write about in regards the Beat Generation but there are so many possibilities and it’s something a student should figure out for themselves. There are countless essays online that you can read to get a good idea of what to write. Look at some old issues of Beatdom, or check our archives for ideas. Avoid anything that has been written about extensively, and try to find a new and interesting angle.
Next, check your sources carefully. Many books that don’t specifically tackle the Beat Generation will contain errors, myths, and misattributed quotes. Find reputable sources and use them, and be skeptical of most websites and blogs that contain information about the Beats. If you find something useful, double check it by finding another highly regarded publication that contains the same information. Make sure that the information you present is entirely and verifiably true before you turn in your essay. You can look at the major Beat biographies by writers such as Bill Morgan and Barry Miles, or else any of the titles published by Beatdom Books – these are all fact-checked and trustworthy. For quotes, you can use Google Books to search many Beat texts.
Finally, if you are serious about studying the Beats and want to contribute to Beat Studies, make sure that your work is original, insightful, and accurate. Don’t attempt to copy the ideas or style of anyone else. By all means, cite important facts from existing works, but don’t just repeat what they say. Push beyond the basics and the commonly repeated information. Don’t tell your reader how Kerouac was a rebel or Ginsberg broke down barriers. Look for something more profound, more concrete, and more useful. There are so many angles from which to view this topic. For proof of that, see all the new publications on the old Beat writers.
The world of Beat Studies is a vibrant community, and it’s heartening to see so many youngsters participate by doing projects on the Beats. If you follow the above advice, you will be well on your way to writing an excellent essay.