Background story

The Beat Generation


The Beat Generation is a group of American post-WWII writers who came to prominence in the 1950s, as well as the cultural phenomena that they both documented and inspired.
Central elements of “Beat” culture included experimentation with drugs and alternative forms of sexuality, an interest in Eastern religion, a rejection of materialism, and the idealizing of exuberant, unexpurgated means of expression and being. Even still the Generation is in motion.


Allen Ginsberg’s Howl (1956), William S. Burroughs’s Naked Lunch (1959) and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957) are among the best known examples of Beat literature¹.
Both Howl and Naked Lunch were the focus of obscenity trials that ultimately helped to liberalize publishing in the United States² ³.  The members of the Beat Generation developed a reputation as new bohemian hedonists, who celebrated non-conformity and spontaneous creativity.


The original “Beat Generation” writers met in New York. Later, the central figures (with the exception of Burroughs) ended up together in San Francisco in the mid-1950s where they met and became friends with figures associated with the San Francisco Renaissance. In the 1960s, elements of the expanding Beat movement were incorporated into the Hippie counterculture.


¹ Charters (1992) The Portable Beat Reader
² Ann Charters, introduction, to Beat Down to Your Soul, Penguin Books (2001) ISBN 0-14-10.0151-8 p. xix “[…] the conclusion of the obscenity trial in San Francisco against Lawrence Ferlinghetti for publishing Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poerms […] in which Judge Clayton W. Horn concluded for the defendant that ‘Howl’ had what he called ‘redeeming social content.’ “, p. xxxiii “After the successful Howl trial, outspoken and subversive literary magazines sprung up like wild mushrooms throughout the United States.”
³ Ted Morgan, Literary Outlaw, Avon, New York, 1988. p 347, trade paper edition ISBN 0-380-70882-5 “The ruling on Naked Lunch in effect marked the end of literary censorship in the United States.”



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