Beat down to Your Soul: What Was the Beat Generation?


In this wide-ranging anthology, Beat scholar Ann Charters brings together more than seventy-five essays, reviews, memoirs, poems, and sketches that evoke the credos and the controversies surrounding the Beat generation writers of the 1950s. Charters includes discussions of all the major Beat figures -- Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, Diane di Prima, Gary Snyder, and many more -- including commentaries by the Beats themselves, as well as by such writers as Henry Miller, William ...
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In this wide-ranging anthology, Beat scholar Ann Charters brings together more than seventy-five essays, reviews, memoirs, poems, and sketches that evoke the credos and the controversies surrounding the Beat generation writers of the 1950s. Charters includes discussions of all the major Beat figures -- Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, Diane di Prima, Gary Snyder, and many more -- including commentaries by the Beats themselves, as well as by such writers as Henry Miller, William Carlos Williams, Mary McCarthy, Joyce Carol Oates, Tom Wolfe, Grace Paley, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Charters also explores the humorous side of the Beat generation, its place in post-World War II American culture, and the contribution of the important women authors who also wrote Beat.
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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
More than 700 pages of pure Beat pleasure. A one-woman Beat industry and an anthologizing demon, Charters (English/Univ. of Connecticut) has edited several collections of Kerouac and other writers of the era (The Portable Beat Reader, not reviewed, etc.). With all her experience, one would expect judicious editorial decisions, clear and accessible introductions to the material, and an expansive breadth of vision—and, once again, she does not disappoint. She lays out a feast of Beat-related belles lettres, criticism, and commentary, dividing her collection into four units: "Writers on the Beat Generation (1948—2000)," "Afterword, Panel with Women Writers of the Beat Generation" (featuring perspectives by Carolyn Cassady, Charters, Joyce Johnston, Hettie Jones, Eileen Kaufman, and Joanna McClure), "Swinging Syllables Beatnik Dictionary," and "Chronology of Selected Books, Magazines, Films, and Recordings Relating to Beat Generation Authors (1950—2000)." Throw in Charters's preface, introduction, bibliography, and index, and the resulting chunky collection of Beat voices and commentary does full justice to the writers and their literature. The big boys of Beat make their obligatory appearance, of course, but Charters refrains from weighing the anthology too heavily in their favor by omitting materials she has previously anthologized. If you've been hankering to know what William Carlos Williams thought of Ginsberg's "Howl" or how Mary McCarthy reacted to Burroughs's Naked Lunch, Charters gives these authors—and many more—in their own trenchant words. In her preface, Charters aims to celebrate "the diversity of voices involved with this literary movement as itdeveloped in post—World War II America." Mission accomplished, and admirably so.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780141001517
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 6/5/2001
  • Pages: 704
  • Product dimensions: 5.34 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.45 (d)

Meet the Author

Ann Charters
Ann Charters
Scholar, editor, and biographer of Beat generation writer Jack Kerouac -- she even penned the preface to his groundbreaking On the Road -- Ann Charters captures the passion and promise of one of the most culturally influential decades of the century.


It's nearly impossible to come across a significant study of Jack Kerouac without encountering the name Ann Charters. A foremost Beat scholar, she wrote the first biography of the On the Road author and has studied his milieu for over 20 years. Charters also has a personal connection to back up her scholarly interest in the Beats: When she was a junior at University of California, Berkeley, her roommate set her up on a date with Peter Orlovsky. Charters was actually in love with her professor, Sam Charters, whom she later married; as for Orlovsky, he was Allen Ginsberg's boyfriend. Charters said in a magazine interview, "My roommate...said to me, 'I'll fix you up with a wonderful boy who's your own age.' This was Peter Orlovsky, before he was living with Allen, and who considered 'Howl' to be the greatest poem since Whitman's Leaves of Grass."

Though the romance didn't pan out, Charters' love of the Beats endured, and she became the genre's anthologist of note. After completing biographies of Kerouac and the futurist poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, Charters assembled the now-classic The Story and Its Writer, a collection of exemplary short stories and commentary by and about authors such as Raymond Carver and Anton Chekhov. In addition to her taste and eye for good literature, one of Charters' strengths is her ability to incorporate the author's voice. She got Kerouac's cooperation on her biography of him and included the authors' own analyses of their work in The Story and Its Writer.

This acumen probably reached its apotheosis when Charters edited a collection of Kerouac's letters. By that time, a second Kerouac biography, Memory Babe by Gerald Nicosia, had been released, and as Charters told the Alsop Review, "my book was, I thought, in comparison, woefully inadequate." She continued, "That's why I took on the editing, because I saw with the letters that it could be a way of giving a biography through my selection, which emphasizes Jack's life as a writer.... If I were to write a biography -- and I will not rewrite my first biography -- well, I've done that with this two-volume set."

Though she has focused on Kerouac in her work, Charters has also done a lot to improve the understanding of Beat literature in general, not only by editing well-known anthologies such as The Portable Beat Reader but also by writing introductions and essays in editions of major works. For a British anthology called The Penguin Book of the Beats (which follows the structure of The Portable Beat Reader), she explained her approach in a publisher's interview: "I decided I wouldn't just alphabetically arrange my favorite Beat writers or put them in big sections, like Poetry, Fiction, Essays. I would organize it historically, so that someone who didn't know much about Beat writing could come in and use the book as an introduction to the whole field and have some guidelines."

Charters is appealing as an editor and anthologist because she embraces, rather than trying to distance herself from, her personal connection to the era she covers. With The Portable Sixties Reader, her most expansive collection yet, she continues to illuminate a crucial literary era.

Good To Know

Charters has taught at Brown University, Columbia University, and the University of Connecticut, where she has been a professor of English since 1974.

Charters on Kerouac's detractors: "Most people are, at heart, good people, but fairly conservative. They really like to think that there's a tried-and-true way of writing, and you sit and write 13 revisions. And when they hear that he's bragging that he's written it in one draft they kind of get their hackles up." (online zine interview)

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    1. Hometown:
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 10, 1936
    2. Place of Birth:
      Bridgeport, Connecticut
    1. Education:
      B.A., University of California, Berkeley, 1957; M.A., Columbia University, 1959; Ph.D., 1965

Table of Contents

Preface xi
Introduction: What Was the Beat Generation? xv
Part 1 Writers on the Beat Generation (1948-2000) 1
"Circular from America" 3
"Award to Lawrence Ferlinghetti" 10
"Poets and Odd Fellows" 18
"The Village Scene" 26
"Follow the East River" 35
"Blues for Bonnie--Take 1, January 1960" 41
"A Portrait of the Hipster" 42
"The Cult of Unthink" 49
"Yowl for Jay McInerney" 58
"Remembering Jack Kerouac" 62
From Off the Road 69
Foreword to Grace Beats Karma 78
Letter to Jack Kerouac, February 1951 84
Letter to Carolyn Cassady, October 16, 1958 87
"With Jack Kerouac in Hyannis" 90
"Hipsters, Flipsters, and Finger Poppin' Daddies: A Note on His Lordship, Lord Buckley, the Hippest of the Hipsters" 97
"Poets Hitchhiking on the Highway" 110
"Spontaneous Requiem for the American Indian" 111
"The Floating Bear, a newsletter" 116
"Rant" 129
"'Punching a Hole in the Big Lie': The Achievement of William S. Burroughs" 132
"Dionysus and the Beat Generation" 150
"Four Letters on the Archetype" 157
"Note on Poetry in San Francisco" 168
From "Work-in-Progress" 169
"A Buddha in the Woodpile" 171
"White Like Me: Anatole Broyard" 173
Letter to John Allen Ryan, September 9, 1955 204
Letter to Richard Eberhart, May 18, 1956 208
"Poetry, Violence, and the Trembling Lambs" 219
"This is the Beat Generation" 222
"The Philosophy of the Beat Generation" 228
"The Needle" 238
From Guilty of Everything 240
From Minor Characters 251
From How I Became Hettie Jones 255
"Abomunist Manifesto" 261
From Who Wouldn't Walk with Tigers? 272
"He's Just Wild About Writing: W. S. Burroughs' The Wild Boys" 280
"Meeting Neal Cassady" 285
I Ching: December 28, 1984 296
"Tapestry" 297
"It Is Lonely" 298
"My Father Died This Spring" 298
"The Beats" 299
"Black Beats: The Signifying Poetry of LeRoi Jones/Imamu Amiri Baraka, Ted Joans, and Bob Kaufman" 303
"Hipster and Beatnik" 328
"Leave the Word Alone" 332
"Where the Open Road Meets Howl" 343
"Burroughs' Naked Lunch" 355
"1957" 365
"A Letter to My Daughter Who Will Be Four Years Old" 367
"The Hunt" 369
"Piece" 369
"Poetry of the 6" 370
"Anatomy of a Beatnik" 377
From Beat Thing 387
"Poetry & Jazz" 397
Preface to The Subterraneans 407
Review of On the Road, September 5, 1957 409
"To Allen Ginsberg" 413
"Down the Road" 415
"The Only Rebellion Around" 424
"Collaboration: Letter to Charlie Chaplin" 440
"A Conversation with My Father" 442
"The Beat Writers: Phenomenon or Generation" 448
"Children of the Beats" 463
"The Know-Nothing Bohemians" 479
"Disengagement: The Art of the Beat Generation" 493
"Thirsting for Peace in a Raging Century" 509
"Notes on the Beat Generation" 516
"The New Wind" 521
"Buddhism and the Possibilities of a Planetary Culture" 524
From Cold Mountain Poems 527
"Song for Bird and Myself" 533
"American Dreamers: Melville and Kerouac" 538
"Kerouac's Sound" 544
"The Other Night at Columbia: A Report from the Academy" 560
"The Disappearing Bohemian" 577
"On the Sidewalk" 584
"Lineages & Legacies" 588
"Influence: Language, Voice, Beat and Energy of Kerouac's Poetry" 590
"Notes on Sitting Beside a Noble Corpse" 596
"One Inch of Love Is An Inch of Ashes" 598
"Burroughs: 'Hurry up. It's time.'" 598
Introduction to Ginsberg's "Howl for Carl Solomon" 601
Letter to Joseph Renard, March 24, 1958 603
"What Do You Think of My Buddha?" 604
Part 2 Panel Discussion with Women Writers of the Beat Generation (1996) 609
Part 3 Chronology of Selected Books, Magazines, Films, and Recordings Relating to Beat Generation Authors (1950-2000) 633
Selected Bibliography 655
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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 18, 2001

    'What put the beat in the beatles?'

    I recommend this excellent anthology called 'Beat Down Your Soul;' poetry, notes, letters, memories, etc., etc., edited and put together by Ann Charters (who also edited the Portable Jack Kerouac). Here's what I found: An especially poignant essay by William Burroughs about the universe of a novel. Another essay by Ann Douglas about the life and work of Burroughs that was just beautifully composed. A bitter sweet memoir written by Jack Kerouac's 2nd wife, Joan Haverty Kerouac about the time she first met Neal Cassidy. I especially dug the memoire by Charters about an encounter with Jack Kerouac during the last years of his life in the late 60s that resulted in a bibliography of his work. The thread ravels throughout all the writings of the various souls touched by the beat generation into a fabulous and true yarn of the times. I especially appreciated the balance of perspective between the famous and not so famous, the men and the women of the beats. This is not your typical anthology; the kind you read right before you want to fall into a sleep-induced coma. This is a wonderfully and joyously compiled magical heap of writing that bursts out with the heart of the beat, beat of the heart, beat, beat, beat, the rhythm of it all.

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