Course :: Beat Generation

January 10, 2008

Introduction to the Beats

NOTE :: Originally a Barnes U Noble University online course I completed Dec. 2001, immediately after the 9-11 tragedy.

Visit today’s: Barnes & Noble.com – B&N Book Clubs


You’ve heard of them: the Beat Generation, the language-bending naughties who took poetry and prose out of the tranquil residue of World War II, upended the literary world in the 50’s, and sired the hippie generation in the 60’s.You’ve heard of the Big Three. Ginsberg: His “Howl” outgrossed Uncle Walt’s barbaric yawp, and the resulting indecency trial made his work famous. Kerouac: He wrote the classic road trip, On the Road. Burroughs: That business about the Naked Lunch. Another survivor of the first amendment. That’s just the first wave, the one that broke on the shores of American culture, changing the nation forever. You’ve heard of them. You want to know more? This course examines the major works of the Beat Trinity and then moves off the beaten path: Snyder, Ferlinghetti, Corso, Rexroth, McClure, Kesey, and DiPrima. When we’re done, you’ll know them well enough to call them Jack, Allen, Bill, Gary, Larry, Greg, Ken, Mike, Ken, and Diane. And you’ll be howling for more.


  • Learn biographical details about the major authors of this fascinating literary movement
  • Identify the most significant works of the Beat Generation and know why they are landmarks
  • Learn the history of one of the most significant postwar literary movements and see its influence in contemporary culture
  • Learn to identify the revolutionary elements of Beat poetry and prose (without sounding like an English major, unless you want to)
  • Become a better and more knowledgeable reader of poetry and prose in general through study of the Beats

Course Creator

Deb Thornton loves literature of all kinds, especially contemporary American. When she’s not reading or writing, she’s playing racquetball or folk music. At the core of her being, she’s out in the red rock desert of the Colorado Plateau chasing coyotes.

Course Materials

clip_image001Collected Poems 1947-1980
The full texts of Howl, Kaddish, Reality Sandwiches, Planet News, The Fall of America, Mind Breaths, and much more.

clip_image002On the Road
Few novels have had as profound an impact as On the Road, and Kerouac’s vision continues to inspire: three generations of writers, musicians, artists, and poets cite their discovery of On the Road as the event that “set them free.” This hardcover edition commemorates the fortieth anniversary of the original publication of an American classic.

clip_image003The Portable Beat Read
The most comprehensive anthology available of the writing that electrified and, at times, outraged America. In poetry, fiction, essays, letters, song lyrics, and memoirs, this forceful collection captures the energy, rudeness, and exhilaration of the works of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Bob Dylan, Diane Di Prima, and other prominent voices of the Beat Movement.

Additional Materials

clip_image005The Portable Jack Kerouac
This essential introduction to one of America’s most important writers is the only anthology of Jack Kerouac’s work ever published. Featuring selections from the many volumes of the “Legend of Duluoz,” in chronological order, the volume also includes poetry, letters, and essays on Buddhism, writing, and the Beat Generation.

clip_image007Naked Lunch
Naked Lunch is the unnerving tale of a monumental descent into the hellish world of a narcotics addict as he travels from New York to Tangiers, then into Interzone, a nightmarish modern urban wasteland in which the forces of good and evil vie for control of the individual and all of humanity. By mixing the fantastic and the realistic with his own unmistakable vision and voice, Burroughs has created a unique masterpiece that is a classic of twentieth century fiction.

clip_image009The Gary Snyder Reader: Prose, Poetry, and Translations, 1952-1998
This monumental collection gathers essays, travel journals, letters, poems, and translations from one of the most influential literary voices of the twentieth century. Gary Snyder has been a major cultural force in America for five decades — prize-winning poet, environmental activist, Zen Buddhist, and reluctant counterculture guru. Having expanded far beyond the Beat poems that first brought his work into the public eye, Snyder has produced a wide-ranging body of work that encompasses his fluency in Eastern literature and culture, his commitment to the environment, and his concepts of humanity’s place in the cosmos. The Gary Snyder Reader showcases the panoramic range of his literary vision in a single-volume survey that will appeal to students and general readers alike.

clip_image011Jack Kerouac — Orpheus Emerged
Orpheus Emerged was written by Jack Kerouac when he was only 23 and shortly after he met Ginsberg, Burroughs, Carr and others in and around Columbia University. These new friends would form the core of the group of writers known as the Beats. Set in an urban university, the story follows the obsessions, passions, conflicts and dreams of a group of bohemian intellectuals.