The Beat Generation: The 1950's American Culture

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Often referred to as the beatniks, a parody of the USSR’s “Sputnik” (Enck), the Beat Generation stands in stark contrast to 1950’s American culture. With the rapid emergence of a post-WWII society - suburbs and consumerism, traditional family values and an exclusion of the extreme - entered the authors who rejected it. Their ideology, shocking to those of their time, ultimately led to the creation of a nation-wide literary movement.
The roots of this movement took place during 1944 near Columbia University, with the meeting of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs; the formation of this clique being fueled by a passion for writing, poetry, and a distaste for conformity (The Beat Page). Soon, this group would expand to include other names, such as Neal
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Kerouac referred to his society as “a beat generation” to describe a collective feeling of weariness (Cellania). This was something he had originally heard from a homeless man by the name of Herbert Hunche, who described being beat as, “exhausted, at the bottom of the world, looking up or out, sleepless, wide-eyed, perceptive, rejected by society, on your own, streetwise” (Cellania). Holmes later went on to publish what is now considered to be the first introduction of this phrase to the public: a New York Times article entitled, “The Beat Generation” (Asher).
However, it was not until the publication of Ginsberg’s Howl that the Beats began to be truly recognized as a full-fledged movement (Asher). During a poetry reading at the Six Gallery in 1955, Ginsberg read aloud from Howl’s manuscript (Asher). This piqued the interest of a publisher within the crowd, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Ferlinghetti, cofounder of City Lights publishing, later contacted Ginsberg by writing, "I greet you at the beginning of a great career. Please send manuscript”

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