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The Beat Generation: Defining a Literary Voice

Evening Program

Wednesday, July 31, 2019 - 6:45 p.m.
Code: 1J0004

Jack Kerouac by photographer Tom Palumbo, ca. 1956

“The burden of my generation was to carry this in utter helplessness— the genocide, the overkill—and still seek love in the underground where all living things hide if they are to survive our century.” —John Clellon Holmes, novelist and poet 

The so-called Beat Generation of the 1950s was a fascinating, maddening, provocative and, in the end, utterly American group of writers. From the quest to find communion in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road to the quotidian struggles of William Burroughs’s Junky to Allen Ginsberg’s searing “Howl” against a post-war America “shuddering mouth-wracked and battered bleak of brain,” their works chronicled a new search for meaning in an increasingly confusing and chaotic world.

But what was the context for the spontaneous prose Kerouac proposed? How does this aesthetic moment represent a kind of sea change in American letters? And who were these men and women, who were not so much a generation but a group of artists pushing back against a tide of conformity in the United States?

Ellen Gorman, a lecturer in the department of English at Georgetown University, examines what this “beat” artistic expression meant to them and their readers and what it might mean for us now.

S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)