The Portable Beat Reader

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Through poetry, fiction, essays, song lyrics, letters, and memoirs, this authoritative single-volume collection of Beat literature captures the triumphant energy of a movement that swept through American letters with hurricane force.
Featuring: Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Gary Snyder, Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso, Diane Di Prima, Bob Dylan, Ken Kesey, Charles Bukowski, Michael McClure, and more.

Author Biography: Ann ...

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Through poetry, fiction, essays, song lyrics, letters, and memoirs, this authoritative single-volume collection of Beat literature captures the triumphant energy of a movement that swept through American letters with hurricane force.
Featuring: Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Gary Snyder, Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso, Diane Di Prima, Bob Dylan, Ken Kesey, Charles Bukowski, Michael McClure, and more.

Author Biography: Ann Charters is the editor of The Portable Sixties Reader, The Portable Jack Kerouac, two volumes of Jack Kerouac's Selected Letters, and Beat Down to Your Soul. She teaches at the University of Connecticut.

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Cutting through bohemian posturing and excess, Charters here reprints much of the most vital, readable and relevant material produced by the Beat generation, primarily in the 1950s and '60s, with some selections from the '70s and '80s. The novels of such leading figures as Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs lend themselves well to excerpting, giving this volume creditable ballast. Representative works of Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Gary Snyder are included along with those of lesser-known Beats e.g., John Clellon Holmes, fellow travelers like Frank O'Hara and Amiri Baraka, and wives and girlfriends often overlooked at the time, including Hettie Jones, Carolyn Cassady and Joyce Johnson. Charters Kerouac offers a broad perspective on this seminal literary movement: she links East Coast Beats to the San Francisco Renaissance poets; pays attention to such latter-day Beats as Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg; and explains the position of non-Beat but related writers--Alan Watts, Anne Waldman, Diane DiPrima and the young Norman Mailer--in her helpful introductory essay and notes preceeding each entry. Her energizing, liberating anthology makes it clear that such Beat preoccupations as the bomb, the meaninglessness of modern existence and ecological destruction remain current. Jan.
Library Journal
Charters, a noted critic of the Beat generation and Jack Kerouac's first biographer, has chosen a representative sample of Beat writings for the latest addition to the Viking ``Portables'' series. Arranged chronologically in six sections, it includes excerpts from Kerouac's On the Road , Allen Ginsberg's Howl , and William S. Burroughs's Naked Lunch , as well as work by Herbert Huncke, Ray Bremser, and lesser-known figures. ``Beat'' is used in its broadest sense to cover the San Francisco Renaissance poets and others, including Bob Dylan, who were influenced by or were sympathetic to the Beats. Robert Creeley's work is conspicuously absent. A general introduction as well as introductions to each section attempt to ``situate the writers in their political, social, and literary contexts.'' This is highly recommended.-- William Gargan, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., CUNY
Extensive selections from writers such as Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Ferlinghetti, and Snyder, and authors influenced by the Beats, are presented with a general introduction and substantial headnotes by the editor. Material from authors not normally associated with the Beat movement is included as well as work from Beat figures' wives and girlfriends who were writers in their own right. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140151022
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 10/1/1992
  • Series: Viking Portable Library Series
  • Pages: 688
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.68 (h) x 1.26 (d)

Meet the Author

Ann Charters

Ann Charters is the editor of The Portable Sixties Reader, The Portable Jack Kerouac, two volumes of Jack Kerouac's Selected Letters, and Beat Down to Your Soul. She teaches at the University of Connecticut.


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

The Portable Beat Reader Introduction
"Variations On A Generation"

Part I
"The Best Minds Of A Generation"
East Coast Beats

Editor's Note

1. Jack Kerouac
On the Road (excerpt)
The Subterraneans (excerpt)
Mexico City Blues (excerpt)
211th Chorus
239th Chorus
240th Chorus
241st Chorus
242nd Chorus
"Essentials of Spontaneous Prose"
"Belief & Technique for Modern Prose

2. Allen Ginsberg
"Footnote to Howl"
"A Supermarket in California"
"Sunflower Sutra"
"On Burroughs' Work"

3. William Burroughs
Junky (excerpt)
The Yage Letters (excerpt)
Naked Lunch (excerpt)
"Deposition: Testimony Concerning a Sickness"

4. Herbert Huncke
"Elsie John"
"Joey Martinez"

5. John Clellon Holmes
Go (excerpt)

6. Carl Solomon
Mishaps, Perhaps (excerpt)

7. Gregory Corso
"I Am 25"
"The Mad Yak"
"Vision of Rotterdam"
"Variations on a Generation" (excerpt)

Part 2
"Heart Beat"
Enter Neal Cassady

Editor's Note

1. Neal Cassady
Letters to Jack Kerouac, 1947-1950

2. Jack Kerouac
Letter to Neal Cassady, early 1951

3. Neal Cassady
The First Third (excerpt)

4. Jack Kerouac
Visions of Cody (excerpt)

Part 3
"Constantly Risking Absurdity"
Some San Francisco Renaissance Poets

Editor's Note

1. Kenneth Rexroth
"Thou Shalt Not Kill"
"Poems from the Japanese"
"Rexroth: Shaker and Maker" by William

2. Lawrence Ferlinghetti
"Constantly Risking Absurdity"
"In Goya's greatest scenes . . ."
"One Thousand Fearful Words for Fidel Castro"
"Horn on Howl

3. Michael McClure
"Peyote Poem"
Scratching the Beat Surface (excerpt)
Includes Snyder's poem, "A Berry Feast," Whalen's poem, "Plus Ca Change..."
McClure's poems, "Point Lobos: Animism" and "For the Death of 100 Whales"

4. Gary Snyder
"Mid-August at Sourdough Montain Lookout
"Milton by Firelight"
"Praise for Sick Women"
"Night Highway Ninety-nine"
"Higashi Hongwanji"
"Notes on the Religious Tendencies"

5. Philip Whalen
"Sourdough Mountain Lookout"
"A Dim View of Berkeley in the Spring"
"Prose Take-Out, Portland 13:ix:58"

6. Philip Lamantia
"The night is a space of white marble"
"I have given fair warning"
"There is this distance between me and what I see"
"Fud at Foster's"

7. Lew Welch
"Chicago Poem"
"The Basic Con"
"Taxi Suite—After Anacreon"
"Not Yet 40, My Beard Is Already White"
"The Image, as in a Hexagram"
"I Saw Myself"

8. Bob Kaufman
"Round About Midnight"
"Jazz Chick"

Part 4
"A Few Blue Words To The Wise"
Other Fellow Travelers

Editor's Note

1. Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones)
"In Memory of Radio"
"Way Out West"
"The Screamers"
Letter About Kerouac's Prose

2. Ray Bremser
"Funny Lotus Blues..."

3. Diane DiPrima
"Three Laments"
"Song for Baby-O, Unborn"
"The Practice of Magical Evocation"
"Brass Furnace Going Out"

4. Bob Dylan
"Blowin' in the Wind"
"The Times They Are A-Cahngin'"
"A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall"
Tarantula (excerpt)

5. Brenda Frazer (Bonni Bremser)
"Poem to Lee Forest"

6. Tuli Kupferberg
"Greenwich Village of My Dreams"
1001 Ways to Beat the Draft (excerpt)

7. Jack Micheline
"Poet of the Streets"

8. Frank O'Hara
"Les Luths"
"Post the Lake Poets Ballad"
"Personal Poem"
"The Day Lady Died"

9. Peter Orlovsky
"Lepers Cry"

10. Ed Sanders
"Poem from Jail" (excerpt)
"The Cutting Prow"

11. Anne Waldman
"Our Past"

12. John Wieners
"A poem for record players"
"A poem for tea heads"
"A poem for museum goers"
"A poem for the insane"
"Feminine Soliloquy"
"Children of the Working Class"

Part 5
"Tales of Beatnik Glory"
Memoirs and Posthumous Tributes

Editor's Note

1. Charles Bukowski
Notes of a Dirty Old Man (excerpt)

2. William Burroughs, Jr.
Kentucky Ham (excerpt)

3. Carolyn Cassady
Off the Road (excerpt)

4. Diane DiPrima
Dinners and Nightmares (excerpt)

5. Brenda Frazer (Bonnie Bremser)
Troia: Mexican Memoirs (excerpt)

6. Brion Gysin
"The Beat Hotel, Paris" (excerpt)

7. Joyce Johnson
Minor Characters (excerpt)

8. Hettie Jones
How I Became Hettie Jones (excerpt)

9. Jan Kerouac
Baby Driver (excerpt)

10. Ken Kesey
"The Day After Superman Died" (excerpt)

11. Michael McClure
The Mad Cub (excerpt)

12. Ed Sanders
Tales of Beatnik Glory (excerpt)

Part 6
"The Unspeakable Visions Of The Individual"
Later Work

Editor's Note

1. William Burroughs
Nova Express (excerpt)

2. Gregory Corso
"Columbia U Poesy Reading—1975"
"The Whole Mess . . . Almost"

3. Diane Di Prima
"April Fool Birthday Poem for Grandpa"
Loba: Parts I-VIII (excerpt)

4. Lawrence Ferlinghetti
"The Canticle of Jack Kerouac"
"Uses of Poetry"
"Short Story on a Painting of Gustav Klimt"

5. Allen Ginsberg
"First Party at Ken Kesey's"
"Wichita Vortex Sutra"
"Anti-Vietnam War Peace Mobilization"
"Ode to Failure"
"White Shroud"
"Fourth Floor, Dawn, Up All Night"
Writing Letters

6. Michael McClure
"Song (I Work with the Shape)"
"It's Nation Time"
"Watching the Stolen Rose"
"The Death of Kin Chuen Louie"

7. Ed Saunders
"Hymn to Archilochus"
"What Would Tom Paine Do?" (Song)

8. Gary Snyder
"Smokey the Bear Sutra"
"I Went into the Maverick Bar"
"Mother Earth: Her Whales"
"The Bath"
"Axe Handles"
"Pine Tree Tops"

Appendix—Three Commentators
1. Norman Mailer
"The White Negro"

2. Alan Watts
"Beat Zen, Square Zen, and Zen"

3. John Clellon Holmes
"The Game of the Name" (excerpt)

Books For Further Reading

Index Of Authors And Titles


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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2003

    Perfect Introduction to the Beats

    This book has so much to offer a student or interested person who is studying the beatniks. It includes classics such as Ginaberg's 'Howl' and excerpts from Kerouac's 'On the Road'. This book illustrates wonderfully the mindset of a generation before Vietnam that questioned their surroundings and openlly talked about its problems.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 1999

    Best compilation of the better known beat writers ever

    This book provides information enough to be of interest to the casual reader, a beat expert, someone who already knows a little about beatnik culture, or someone you want to become intersted in the literature. All the necessary information is there, plus a little extra. My only criticism is that it can't include all the writers of the movement, but then the book would be the size of the Complete Works of Shakespeare plus a city phonebook, so then you'd have to that 'Portable' out of the title. But, this book is amazing, definately readable.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2009

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