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Beat Generation

BEAT GENERATION

BEAT GENERATION. The beats emerged in and around Columbia University in New York City in the 1940s. Picking up the word "beat" from their friend Herbert Huncke, the original beat writers, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac, used it to describe their free-form, improvisational style of writing and their unconventional, spontaneous way of life. Joined by writers such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, and Gregory Corso, the movement flowered in California in the mid-1950s and influenced much of the cultural rebellion of the 1960s.

At the Six Gallery in San Francisco on 7 October 1955 Ginsberg gave the first public reading of "Howl," a poem characteristically full of vivid imagery, confessional candor, and unbridled self-expression that authorities subsequently labeled vulgar. Ferlinghetti, the director of San Francisco's City Lights Books, was in the audience, and he offered to publish Ginsberg's work. The resulting Howl and Other Poems (1956) gave rise to a censorship trial that brought the beats into the public eye for the first time and cast them as literary rebels prepared to test the limits of censorship and social convention.

The most famous beat novel, Kerouac's On the Road, was written in 1951 but was not published until 1957. Based on his adventures with Neal Cassady in the late 1940s, the book reportedly encouraged countless others to seek personal fulfillment through the pursuit of an existential lifestyle. The success of On the Road thrust Kerouac into the spotlight, where he was acclaimed the "avatar" of the beat generation. Unprepared for fame and ill-equipped to deal with the critical backlash that followed, Kerouac withdrew from the media glare, dropped his beat friends, and distanced himself from the actions and ideals of those who claimed him as an inspiration. When Ginsberg became an important player in the activism of the 1960s, Kerouac denounced his former friend as "anti-American."

Originally derided by most serious critics and lampooned as "beatniks" by the popular media, the beats were rehabilitated in the 1970s. Their work, the basis of numerous academic courses and the subject of hundreds of books, significantly changed American literary conventions and values, and their lifestyle inspired restless souls and cultural rebels of all stripes. In June 2001 the manuscript of On the Road sold at auction for $2.43 million.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Charters, Ann, ed. The Portable Beat Reader. New York: Penguin, 1992.

George-Warren, Holly, ed. The Rolling Stone Book of the Beats: The Beat Generation in American Culture. New York: Hyperion, 1999.

Tytell, John. Naked Angels. New York: Grove Press, 1976.

Watson, Steven. The Birth of the Beat Generation: Visionaries, Rebels, and Hipsters, 1944–1960. New York: Pantheon, 1995.

RickDodgson

See alsoHippies ; Literature .

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"Beat Generation." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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beat generation

beat generation, term applied to certain American artists and writers who were popular during the 1950s. Essentially anarchic, members of the beat generation rejected traditional social and artistic forms. The beats sought immediate expression in multiple, intense experiences and beatific illumination like that of some Eastern religions (e.g., Zen Buddhism). In literature they adopted rhythms of simple American speech and of bop and progressive jazz. Among those associated with the movement were the novelists Jack Kerouac and Chandler Brossard, numerous poets (e.g., Kenneth Rexroth, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Gregory Corso), and others, many of whom worked in and around San Francisco. Perhaps the only true nihilist of the group was William S. Burroughs. During the 1960s "beat" ideas and attitudes were absorbed by other cultural movements, and those who practiced something akin to the "beat" lifestyle were called "hippies."

See B. Cook, The Beat Generation (1971, repr. 1982), J. Tytell, Naked Angels (1976, repr. 1991), E. H. Foster, Understanding the Beats (1992), D. Sterritt, Mad to Be Saved: The Beats, the 50s, and Film (1998), and J. Campbell, This Is the Beat Generation (2001); film documentary, The Source (1999).

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"beat generation." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"beat generation." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/beat-generation

beat generation

beat gen·er·a·tion a movement of young people in the 1950s who rejected conventional society and favored Zen Buddhism, modern jazz, free sexuality, and recreational drugs. Among writers associated with the movement were Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

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"beat generation." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"beat generation." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/beat-generation-0

"beat generation." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/beat-generation-0

beat generation

beat generation a movement of young people in the 1950s and early 1960s who rejected conventional society, valuing free self-expression and favouring modern jazz. The phrase itself was supposedly coined by Jack Kerouac (1922–69) in the course of a conversation.

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"beat generation." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/beat-generation