Study Guide

Beat Generation Literature Timeline

How It All Went Down

1943: Lucien Carr and Allen Ginsberg meet and fall in love… with a shared vision for fresh, risky literature

Lucien Carr, the charismatic socialite, and Allen Ginsberg, the thoughtful bookworm, meet while at Columbia. Together, the two begin forming a "New Vision" of literary expression. As inspiration, they dig the life and writing of Arthur Rimbaud.

August 13, 1944: Lucien Carr murders David Kammerer

Kammerer reportedly made persistent sexual advances toward Carr. At some point, Kammerer's pursuit of Carr drove Carr to kill him. After the murder, William Burroughs pleaded with Carr to turn himself in.

Jack Kerouac helps Carr hide the evidence. Yep, all the boys were involved. So the murder shakes everyone up, but it also tightens the friendships and creative relationships that made the Beat Movement possible.

1947: Neal Cassady enters the scene

Cassady meets Ginsberg through acquaintances at Columbia. Cassady ends up becoming Ginsberg's muse—a kind of golden boy—and sometimes his lover. Then, he develops a wild bromance with Kerouac that inspired On the Road.

When he integrated into the crew, he brought with him a love for jazz. The rest of the Beats quickly followed suit.

1948: Jack Kerouac coins the term "Beat Generation"

In a conversation with a journalist, Jack Kerouac coins this term for his movement. It's got multiple meanings, referencing a literary beat-down, his own beaten-down generation, as well as his own "Beatification generation"—a generation capable of transcendence.

1949: Allen Ginsberg is arrested for possessing those tiny green trees

He pled insanity and got thrown in the slammer. While there, he met Carl Solomon, an eccentric publisher of pulp fiction and comic books. Solomon would later publish Junkie, William Burroughs's first novel.

In any case, Ginsberg was really fond of the dude. He dedicated much of "Howl" and "Kaddish" to him.

1955: The "San Francisco Renaissance" era of the Beat movement begins

The San Francisco Renaissance era is ushered in at the Six Gallery Event where all the Beat boys gathered. There, Ginsberg's "Howl" was read in public for the first time. Gary Snyder read some poems too. Kerouac was there but too drunk to read.

Can you imagine being at one of the most famous literary events in history… only to later have everyone know you were too drunk to read your work at it? We can't even.

1956: Gary Snyder starts writing Mountains and Rivers Without End

Snyder holed up with Kerouac in a mountain cabin, and the two started studying the concepts of Zen Buddhism. These ideas would heavily influence Beat literature.

1957: William Burroughs finds inspiration for Naked Lunch in Paris

At the Beat Hotel, the cut-up technique is introduced to Burroughs by the artist Brion Gysin. Now with his literary inspiration in hand, Burroughs finishes Naked Lunch. With a little help from Allen Ginsberg, that is.

1957: Ginsberg's poem "Howl" is tried for obscenity

Luckily, it's found "not guilty." Why? The piece is deemed to have social value. And this verdict goes down in history as a landmark court case for the protection of free speech.

1957: Jack Kerouac's On the Road

This chiefly autobiographical novel is considered a bible for the Beat movement. Kerouac typed the entire first draft on a single piece of tracing paper, in one continuous frenzy. Wowza.

1959: William Burroughs's Naked Lunch is published in Europe

The French publishers at Olympia Press, which was known for publishing many pornographic novels, accepts Burroughs's manuscript. And the people rejoiced.

1962: Naked Lunch hits the U.S.

Many lit-heads were pretty stoked when this book was finally published in the U.S. But it was quickly banned.

1966: The Naked Lunch ban is reversed

Aha. Like Ginsberg's "Howl," this book, too, was found to have social value. Well, duh.

But the reversal of the ban on Naked Lunch is also arguably the end of the Beat movement. What else is there to do, once you've been accepted into a society you wanted to destroy? How ironic.