Allen Ginsberg reads “Howl”

Listen to the author read this quintessential beat poem.


Jack Kerouac–ON THE ROAD

“Jack Kerouac came to embody the counter culture and when he published On the Road, it became the Bible of the counter culture generation.” –Jay Parini

Although he had been toying the story for years, the legend is that Kerouac wrote his final draft of On the Road in three weeks.  Kerouac, a fast typer (averaging 100 wpm), did not like having to stop typing to change the individual sheets of paper, so he replaced them with a 120 foot scroll of typing paper, which contains the original manuscript of the book (except for the very end which was eaten by a Cocker Spaniel according to Kerouac’s note). Based on his experiences traveling the country with Neal Cassady (the model for character Dean Moriarty), Kerouac’s novel was an overnight success. Kerouac use a style of writing that he said was inspired by Jazz called “spontaneous prose.” To hear an example of this style of writing, watch the video in which Kerouac reads the final page of On the Road.


Jack Kerouac:

Andrea Shea “Jack Kerouac’s Famous Scroll ‘On the Road’ Again”

Gregory Corso–“Bomb”

Jack Kerouac described Beat poet Gregory Corso “a tough young kid from the Lower East Side who rose like an angel over the roof tops and sang Italian song as sweet as Caruso and Sinatra, but in words.” After a series of pretty crimes Corso was arrested for breaking into a shop and sent to Clinton State Prison. It was during this time that Corso began writing poetry. Shortly after being released from prison, he met Allen Ginsberg in a Greenwich Village bar and began a friendship first with Ginsberg, and eventually with Kerouac and Burroughs as well. He wrote from 1955 to 1996 and passed away in 2001 at the age of 70.

“Bomb” (read here by the author*) is his most famous poem and the title of his 1958 book of poetry. When printed correctly, the words of the poem take the shape of a mushroom cloud.
*Make sure to listen all the way to the end for his commentary on his own performance.

“Gregory Corso”

William S. Burroughs–NAKED LUNCH

Norman Mailer called Beat writer William S Burroughs (1914-1997) “the only living American novelist conceivably possessed by genius.” He was born to a wealthy St. Louis family and attended Harvard College. After being discharged from the army for mental health problems, Burroughs moved to New York where he met Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. Many scholars consider these three men the founders of the Beat Movement. Burroughs’ life was plagued with trouble and legal controversy. In 1944, Burroughs and Kerouac were arrested as accessories to the murder of David Kammerer, the experience of which would serve as the inspiration for their co-written book And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks. In 1951, he shot and killed his second wife and the mother of his only child, Joan Vollmer under mysterious circumstances. The apocryphal story is that they were playing William Tell and he was attempting to shoot a glass of whiskey off of her head. In any case, Burroughs was convicted of “culpable homicide.” In Queer, Burrough expresses his belief that Vollmer’s death is what ultimately drove him to become a writer. Burroughs struggled with addiction (especially to heroin) throughout his life and these experiences influenced his most notable work, Naked Lunch, which caused a scandal when excerpts of it were first published in 1958. Attempts were made to ban the novel when it was fully published in 1962 and there was even an incident in which a shop owner was arrested for selling it. An obscenity trial was held and eventually the book was allowed to remain in print. More than a million copies have been sold.

Here Burroughs reads an excerpt from Naked Lunch.

Phil Cauthon “The Death of Joan Vollmer: What Really Happened?”
Ann Livermore “Skipped a Beat: Burroughs and Kerouac’s Long Awaited Collaboration.”
Tom Vitale “Burroughs’ ‘Naked Lunch’ Still Fresh 50 Years Later.”