White Hand Society: The Psychedelic Partnership of Timothy Leary & Allen Ginsbergby Peter Conners
In 1960 Timothy Leary was not yet famousor infamousand Allen Ginsberg was both. Leary, eager to expand his psychedelic experiments at Harvard to include accomplished artists and writers, knew that Ginsberg held the key to bohemia’s elite. America’s most conspicuous beatnik” was recruited as Ambassador of Psilocybin under the
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In 1960 Timothy Leary was not yet famousor infamousand Allen Ginsberg was both. Leary, eager to expand his psychedelic experiments at Harvard to include accomplished artists and writers, knew that Ginsberg held the key to bohemia’s elite. America’s most conspicuous beatnik” was recruited as Ambassador of Psilocybin under the auspices of an Ivy League professor, and together they launched the psychedelic revolution and turned on the hippie generation. A who’s who of artists, pop culture, and political figures people this story of the life, times, and friendship of two of the most famous, charismatic, and controversial members of America’s counterculture.
Peter Conners is the author of Growing Up Dead, The Hallucinated Confessions of a Teenage Deadhead.
A full account of the two 1960s icons who made it their cause to launch the psychedelic age.
BOA Editions editor Conners (Growing Up Dead: The Hallucinated Confessions of a Teenage Deadhead, 2009, etc.) begins with sketches of his subjects' early years, then moves to 1960, when they met. By then, Ginsberg was the famous symbol of the Beat generation, open about both drugs and sexuality. Leary, a Harvard instructor, had begun using mescaline to research schizophrenia and other mental illnesses. Another Harvard psychologist introduced the two, thinking Leary might find the poet an interesting subject. Each was convinced of the importance of psychedelics, and the two had complementary strengths: Ginsberg's wide connections in the artistic world and Leary's cachet as a Harvard researcher. In November 1960, they created a plan to spread the gospel of psychedelics. Letters went out to writers, jazz musicians, artists and others who might try the drugs and spread the word. But Leary underestimated how straight society would react as Harvard, then the world at large, became aware of his drug sessions. Losing his job in a blaze of publicity, Leary went on the road in his new role as prophet of LSD. Meanwhile, Ginsberg was pursuing mystical paths to enlightenment in India. They grew apart as the '60s played out—Leary as the leading advocate of a drug-fueled counterculture, Ginsberg as an advocate of peace and social change. Leary increasingly became the target of busts and persecution, and eventually went to prison in California. After escaping, he fled overseas, but was recaptured and served hard time until he turned state's evidence to gain his freedom. The two men were never really close thereafter, but their paths crossed from time to time, surrounded by a cast of characters ranging from Ken Kesey to G. Gordon Liddy.
Conners sometimes falls into hero worship, especially of Ginsberg, and the time frame is occasionally unclear, but he provides an entertaining overview of an era whose echoes still ring.
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Meet the Author
Peter Conners is author of the memoir, Growing Up Dead: The Hallucinated Confessions of a Teenage Deadhead (Da Capo Press, 2009). His other books include the prose poetry collection Of Whiskey and Winter and the novella Emily Ate the Wind. His next poetry collection, The Crows Were Laughing in their Trees, is forthcoming from White Pine Press in spring 2011. He is also editor of PP/FF: An Anthology which was published by Starcherone Books in April 2006. His writing appears regularly in such journals as Poetry International, Mississippi Review, Brooklyn Rail, Fiction International, Salt Hill, Hotel Amerika, Mid-American Review, The Bitter Oleander, and Beloit Fiction Journal and will be included in the Forty Under Forty poetry anthology forthcoming from Yale University Press.
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