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  Beatnik History

The Beat movement was born in 1955 when a young poet named Allen Ginsberg read his stirring poem "Howl" to an audience of hep cats, hipsters, and bohemians at a San Francisco café. Poets, artists, mystics, and dreamers alike rose to Ginsberg's call of the wild and ushered in America's very first subculture.

The Beat Generation emerged as a reaction against the conformity and materialism of the 1950's. Rejecting the so-called security of Cold War America, the Beats embraced gritty reality, Eastern traditions, altered states of consciousness, and subversive sexuality.

Self-expression took on radical new forms as performance and poetry were brought into the cafés and streets. Inspired by swing jam sessions and the improv jazz of Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and other prodigies of the '50's, Beat poets dabbled in spontaneous readings that took on musical rhythms. Artists fused recycled or found materials into collages. A whole new generation of literary voices was born: Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Gregory Corso were but a few of the Beats' brightest stars.

The poetry and jazz infused jam sessions eventually gave way to wilder parties, many famously thrown by novelist Ken Kesey. In an outrageous turn, Kesey and Neal Cassady (Kerouac's inspiration for On the Road) commandeered a bus cross-country from San Francisco to the 1964 Worldís Fair in New York. They dubbed the vehicle "Further," plastered it with psychedelic designs, and equipped it with a sound system. With a crew of "Merry Pranksters" in tow, the group sought to "freak out" conformists on their way east. This experience was a bold first step toward the counterculture movement of the late 1960's.

Learn more about the
Beatnik Generation.


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