The Beats

The Beats—the basics

  • The Beat Generation was comprised of a group of post WWII authors; most notable of them are Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs
  • The best known literature from the movement are Ginsberg’s Howl, Kerouac’s On the Road and Burroughs’s Naked Lunch
  • The Beats were known for experimental drug use, interest in Eastern religion, alternative forms of sexuality, rejection of  materialism and celebrated non-conformity and spontaneous creativity
  • Influences include Romanticism, early American writers including Thoreau, Emerson and especially Whitman, French surrealism and Modernism.

Allen Ginsberg and the Six Gallery Reading

  • On October 7, 1955, Allen Ginsberg and five others read for a group of 100 people at the first Six Gallery reading in San Francisco.
  • It was Ginsberg’s first public reading and he read the first finished par of Howl.
  • It was a success that led to many more readings by the Six Gallery poets
  • This was viewed as the marker for the beginning of the Beat Movement: after the reading, Howl was published in 1956 then was tried for obscenity in 1957 brining it national attention.

Influence on Western Society

In 1982, Ginsberg published a summary of “the essential effects” of the Beat Generation:[33]

  • Spiritual liberation, sexual “revolution” or “liberation,” i.e. gay liberation, somewhat catalyzing women’s liberation, black liberation, Gray Panther activism
  • Liberation of the world from censorship.
  • Demystification and/or decriminalization of cannabis and other drugs.
  • The evolution of rhythm and blues into rock and roll as a high art form, as evidenced by the BeatlesBob Dylan, and other popular musicians influenced in the later fifties and sixties by Beat generation poets’ and writers’ works.
  • The spread of ecological consciousness, emphasized early on by Gary Snyder and Michael McClure, the notion of a “Fresh Planet.”
  • Opposition to the military-industrial machine civilization, as emphasized in writings of Burroughs, Huncke, Ginsberg, and Kerouac.
  • Attention to what Kerouac called (after Spengler) a “second religiousness” developing within an advanced civilization.
  • Return to an appreciation of idiosyncrasy as against state regimentation.
  • Respect for land and indigenous peoples and creatures, as proclaimed by Kerouac in his slogan from On the Road: “The Earth is an Indian thing.
(from Wikipedia)

 They were very influential to the sixties counterculture and hippies. Huge influences on various rock artists with Bob Dylan, The Beatles and The Doors citing the Beat Generation as a big influence.


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