Though Kerouac and Cassady died more than fifty years ago and the Beat heyday was long before that, interest in this most fascinating of literary movements continues. Perhaps it is because their voices are as relevant today as they ever were. In any case, it is heartening to see not just a continuation of interest in the Beats but a growth of interest as new generations uncover Beat literature.
In 2021, several Beat books are slated for publication (or re-publication). This list is no doubt missing several, so please do not hesitate to get in touch if you know of any others.
The Beats, Black Mountain, and New Modes in American Poetry
Matt Theado, professor of American Culture at Japan’s Kobe University, has edited this collection of essays about the Beat Generation writers and those of the Black Mountain school. From the book’s introduction:
- The Beats, Black Mountain, and New Modes in American Poetry investigates the connections of two mid-century American poetry movements that developed simultaneously but would be separated in anthologies as Beat Generation poets on the one hand and Black Mountain poets on the other. The labels certainly have an ongoing effect; they give the impression of cohesion among poets in one group while masking the communal and reciprocal influences they might have shared with the other. We can more clearly understand the innovations in American poetics at mid-century by challenging the opacity of these divisions and breaking down barriers in historical context. Divisions among poets arose in part because we have chosen to see them as distinct, and as the years pass and numerous books are written and marketed, the distinction between the Beats and the Black Mountain poets has become a given, a factor in the way new readers discover and register them and librarians index them.
This sounds like a fascinating book and will be available in March from Clemson University Press.
The Beats: A Teaching Companion
Also published by Clemson University Press, Nancy M. Grace’s The Beats: A Teaching Companion will provide educators with an important resource for teaching Beat studies. This text will contain twenty-two essays divided into the following categories: “1) Foundational Issues, 2) Beat Literary Genres, 3) Beat Literary Topics, 4) Beat Lineages and Legacies, 5) Selected Resources, and 6) Sample Assignments.” According to the publisher’s website:
- This companion provides models and resources for integrating authors, texts, and themes associated with Beat writing, generally dated from the early 1950s to 1965, when the major social justice movements in the United States began to tear apart the fabric of postwar containment culture and Hippie counterculture became a dominant movement.
Grace’s new book seems like an important addition to Beat studies and hopefully will be adopted in universities around the world.
Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac
This is not a new book but rather a major re-issuing of a classic Beat text. Gerald Nicosia wrote the original Memory Babe in 1983 and it is a highly regarded biography of Kerouac. The book has been out of print for two decades but its author has been busy working on new material. According to its Amazon page:
- The new edition contains hundreds of changes from the last edition. Some of these are merely corrections, a name or date changed, but there are also extensive new passages based on material that has come to light since 1994. As just some examples, the book contains new material on Kerouac’s ancestry; on his relationship with his mother and his last wife Stella Sampas; on some of his dark sides, such as his anti-Semitism; on the ways Kerouac was influenced by Neal Cassady’s infamous “Joan Anderson Letter“; on what Kerouac wished for and saw as his legacy; and on the details of his death.
This book is slated for publication in March by Station Hill Press.
Burroughs & Scotland: Dethroning the Ancients: The Commitment of Exile
Coming in March from Beatdom Books, Burroughs & Scotland is a look at an over-looked part of the life of William S. Burroughs. Chris Kelso has investigated Burroughs’ time in Edinburgh (where he studied Scientology) and looked into the influence Burroughs’ work has had on modern Scottish literature, arguing that Scotland was practically waiting for him to arrive and kick the country into a new era. From the back cover:
- Burroughs & Scotland discusses the gentleman junky’s early impact on the Scottish literary landscape, his turbulent relationship with Alexander Trocchi, and his dalliance with the sinister Edinburgh Org branch of Scientology – plus many more stories of Caledonian mischief and anarchy.
Burroughs Unbound: William Burroughs and the Performance of Writing
In July, another book about Burroughs will be published, this time a collection of essays assembled by S. E. Gontarski. Featuring work by Oliver Harris and Jed Birmingham, this aims to follow on from several recent publications that have pushed the curious Beat author’s work into a more serious critical light. According to the publisher’s website, it will ask “crucial questions […] about the nature of archives and their relationship to a writer’s work” yet go beyond merely writing and into other media:
- In the 1960s and 1970s Burroughs collaborated with filmmakers and musicians, who re-contextualized his writings in other media. Burroughs Unbound examines these collaborations and explores how such multiple authorship complicates the authority of the archive as a final or complete repository of an author’s work.
This book will be published by Bloomsbury.
Fleabag Shrine: Diverse Particulars Apropos of N° 9 rue Gît-le-Coeur
It is unclear how much of this book is about the Beat Generation, but it is supposedly a collection of material related to the famed Beat Hotel and written by Gregory Stephenson, who has produced several books and essays on the Beats. This new book gives away little on its Amazon page and is independently published by the author. By way of a synopsis, it simply says:
- Diverse particulars apropos of N° 9 rue Gît-le-Coeur, Left Bank enclave of the Beat Generation. Expatriate life in Paris in the Postwar era. Histories, depictions, reminiscences, contexts, allusions, curiosities, influences & reverberations.
In addition to those books, 2021 will also bring us an exciting new record. This is the earliest audio recording of Allen Ginsberg reading “Howl,” from February, 1956. Here’s the trailer:
More details at Variety.