The Beats: Literature and Counterculture

Autumn 2016-2017


Andrew Peart

Beat writers formed one of the earliest, and most publicly engaged, movements in American literary culture of the postwar period. They also captivated American popular culture by redefining the genres, platforms, and technologies of modern literary production, and by making literature the vehicle for an ethics of living that purported to subvert norms of race, gender, and class. This course examines the literary achievement and cultural impact of the Beats in the period spanning the end of WWII and the end of the Vietnam War (1945-1975), focusing on the wide breadth of their experimentation with various forms and media (the open-form novel and poem, the modern poetry reading, the spoken word recording), their diverse identities as authors (working-class, female, non-white), and their role in a plurality of social movements (Free Speech, Second-Wave Feminism, Black Power). The course syllabus includes the three authors typically considered the preeminent Beat writers (Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs) but devotes great attention to women and minority writers central to the Beat movement (Diane di Prima, Helen Adam, Amiri Baraka, Bob Kaufman). (C)