Sunday Reading: The Beat Generation


The poet Allen Ginsberg was born ninety-two years ago today, on June 3rd, 1926. To celebrate, we’re bringing you pieces about the Beat Generation and the ways it changed American culture. Subscribers can read Jane Kramer’s twopart Profile of Ginsberg, which follows him across America, from Greenwich Village to San Francisco. In “Drive, He Wrote,” Louis Menand explores the composition and legacy of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”; in “The Outlaw,” Peter Schjeldahl chronicles the extraordinary life of William S. Burroughs, whose “Naked Lunch” “brought to social notice themes of drug use, homosexuality, hyperbolic violence, and anti-authoritarian paranoia.” Writing in 1967, Renata Adler provides an unforgettable snapshot of hippie life on the Sunset Strip, in “Fly Trans-Love Airways,” while Dana Goodyear travels to the foothills of the Sierra Nevada to meet the ecological poet Gary Snyder, in “Zen Master.” Adam Green browses the Strand bookstore with the actor Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Ginsberg in the film “Kill Your Darlings,” while Jonathan Lethem recalls his days as a Brooklyn bookstore clerk, when he encountered Herbert Huncke, a New York City character who “may or may not have been the source of the term ‘Beat,’ ” and who appeared, in fictionalized form, in “On the Road” and other books. We hope these pieces energize your reading list—or inspire your next road trip.

—David Remnick

“Drive, He Wrote”

“Books like Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ have a different kind of influence as well. They can, whether we think of them as great literature or not, get into the blood. They give content to experience.” Read more.

“The Outlaw”

“William S. Burroughs wages literary war not on perceptible real-world targets but against suggestions that anyone is responsible for anything.” Read more.

“Fly Trans-Love Airways”

“What seems to have brought the Sunset Strip to its present impasse was an economic battle with, and over, teen-agers; and what apparently drew the teen-agers to the Strip in the first place was a musical development.” Read more.

“Zen Master”

“Even Gary Snyder’s most intimate poems can have an impersonal quality: the ‘I,’ sometimes suppressed, is unobtrusive—a vehicle for exploring the world, not a world in itself.” Read more.





One thought on “Sunday Reading: The Beat Generation

  1. Nori and I were just at the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco where I bought a copy of Cony Island of the Mind and toured the store as I’ve done before. I could have bought every book there. Lawrence Ferlinghetti was not there, and he’s 99 this year.

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