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The Letters of Allen Ginsberg

The Letters of Allen Ginsberg

by Allen Ginsberg, Bill Morgan

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Allen Ginsberg (1926–1997) was one of twentieth-century literature's most prolific letter-writers. This definitive volume showcases his correspondence with some of the most original and interesting artists of his time, including Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Neal Cassady, Lionel Trilling, Charles Olson, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Philip


Allen Ginsberg (1926–1997) was one of twentieth-century literature's most prolific letter-writers. This definitive volume showcases his correspondence with some of the most original and interesting artists of his time, including Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Neal Cassady, Lionel Trilling, Charles Olson, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Philip Whalen, Peter Orlovsky, Philip Glass, Arthur Miller, Ken Kesey, and hundreds of others.

Through his letter writing, Ginsberg coordinated the efforts of his literary circle and kept everyone informed about what everyone else was doing. He also preached the gospel of the Beat movement by addressing political and social issues in countless letters to publishers, editors, and the news media, devising an entirely new way to educate readers and disseminate information. Drawing from numerous sources, this collection is both a riveting life in letters and an intimate guide to understanding an entire creative generation.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In 1962 Allen Ginsberg wrote to Bertrand Russell: "All I know is, I've lived in the midst of apparent worldly events and apparent transcendental insights, and it all adds up to I don't know what." Both the worldliness and the transcendence come through in these letters by the beat poet, published for the first time. As the poet's biographer and prolific literary archivist, Morgan has selected just 165 out of more than 3,700 letters. They offer a comprehensive look at Ginsberg's life, from his earliest letter to the New York Times in 1941 to his dying message to Bill Clinton requesting an arts prize "unless it's politically inadvisable or inexpedient." Ginsberg wrote at length to just about anyone: Kerouac and other literary colleagues, of course, but also journalists and literary critics who failed (in his estimation) to fully appreciate what the beats had accomplished. The playful, experimental side of his personality comes through, from his youthful attempts to attract the attention of Ezra Pound to his experiments with LSD. Ginsberg's admirers will be glad Morgan has followed the poet's instructions not to "smooth out rough horny communist un-American goofy edges." (Sept. 15)

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Library Journal

Morgan, Ginsberg's biographer (I Celebrate Myself) and archivist, studied 3700 letters left behind by the poet, selecting 165 of the most significant for this edition; over 125 appear here for the first time. Always intelligent, sometimes gossipy, and occasionally cranky and impatient, Ginsberg is accurately reflected in these letters taken together. Correspondents include Ginsberg's father, Louis, and brother, Eugene; the poet's longtime companion, Peter Orlovsky; fellow Beat writers Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, and Gregory Corso; and a host of friends and acquaintances. There are also letters to newspapers and politicians, ranging from one on the League of Nations sent to the New York Times in 1941 to a short note to President Bill Clinton seeking "some sort of an award or medal," written just days before Ginsberg's death. Arranging the letters chronologically, Morgan uses headnotes to identify correspondents and provide additional context as needed. On the whole, his quest to compile "a greatest hits album" of Ginsberg's correspondence succeeds admirably. Highly recommended for all literature collections.
—William Gargan

From the Publisher
Columbia College Today, Jan/Feb 2009
“Morgan has put together the best of Allen Ginsberg ‘48’s letters to friends and fellow writers.”
Augusta Metro Spirit, 6/25/08
“A stunning display of the mind at work…A talented editor with firsthand knowledge of the subject, Morgan is able to craft a fascinating journey through the mind of one of the world’s best poetical voices…Crafted with supreme care, organized under a chronological format, and placed together in a series of thrusts from the mind of a master thinker now gone, this collection of letters serves as a collective howl into the cognitive recesses within the open-minded free thinkers of today.”
Library Journal, 9/01/08
“Always intelligent, sometimes gossipy, and occasionally cranky and impatient, Ginsberg is accurately reflected in these letters taken together…On the whole, [Morgan’s] quest to compile ‘a greatest hits album’ of Ginsberg’s correspondence succeeds admirably. Highly recommended for all literature collections.”
Q Syndicate, 8/25/08
“[A] mouth-watering sampling of correspondence across six decades…Rich and revealing...Stamp this meticulously edited collection of letters ‘transcendent.’” It was also the column’s “featured excerpt.”

Magill Book Reviews
[The letters] indicate just how thoroughly Ginsberg often thought about a subject or situation, and just how much control he had of the rhetorical devices which make non-fiction prose an informative and illuminating form…A fascinating glimpse into an important part of American cultural history, as well as a kind of autobiographical account of the poet’s primary political and aesthetic concerns…[Morgan’s] concise, knowledgeable explanations and contextual formulations are invaluable in leading the reader, even one familiar with Ginsberg’s life, to a more complete understanding of the writer’s thoughts and emotional condition at the time of the writing. Ginsberg’s life has been adequately covered in various biographies and commentaries, but this volume adds to and complements all of them, a compilation of enduring interest to anyone interested in the poet’s life and times.”

Gay & Lesbian Review, 11/08
“Will doubtless serve a purpose for the many scholars and students of the Beat generation.”

January, 11/24/08
“Morgan has—once again—done a terrific job with Ginsberg’s words. In many ways, what we have here is the very heart of the Beat Generation. A wonderful book.”

PopMatters.com, 12/2/08
“We are served the spectrum of Ginsberg’s many moods and interests and his who’s-who guide of a rolodex…Some of the letters from the early ‘50s, pre-Howl, provide remarkable insight into the poems written around the same time…What The Letters offers that previous editions of Ginsbergalia, including the two biographies that have come out recently, cannot is the raw glimpses into the poet’s love life.”

Ink19.com, 12/08
“A superb collection that mirrors the beauty, humor, and energy of Ginsberg's work, and will serve well those who entered, and maybe never left, their Beat stage.”

Electric Review, September/October 2008
“The art of Ginsberg’s letters is captured in stunning form…Indispensable to all serious students of literature…A book that embraces the wonders of communication, each selection reveling in the sheer excitement of the connection…Followers of the Beat Generation will find countless hours of enjoyment here.”

Reference & Research Book News, November 2008
“From topics as personal as a recommendation of medicine for dysentery to Kerouac, to his excitement at discovering the painter Francis Bacon, to frank comments on his own work and that of others, the letters are captivating. Through them we see not only into the mind of a seminal poet but also into the society that shaped him.”

Curled Up with a Good Book, 10/08
“Since [Ginsberg’s] friends and correspondents included some of the great figures of his times, this epistolary collection has a deep footprint…If you want to understand the Beat generation, the hippies, the intellectual drug scene, the intellectual gay scene and poetry, this is a must-read.”

InfoDad.com, 10/30/08
“To Ginsberg fans and scholars, his letters provide insight into his personality, his creative process, and his works.”

Washington Blade
, 8/22/08

“A historical epistolary novel…A guide to the Beat generation.”  

New York Post
, 9/14/08

“Full of wonderful tidbits about Ginsberg.” 

San Francisco Chronicle
, 9/20/08

“This wonderfully rich collection of 165 letters from the 1940s until the poet's death in 1997, put together by his longtime archivist, Bill Morgan, gives us a firsthand view of the man behind the poems, someone of whom it can be truly said that the personal was political…This remarkable collection by someone who perhaps invented the concept of ‘oversharing’ long before it became fashionable, reminds us of why he mattered then, and still does now.”

Details, October 2008
“Morgan has catalogued 165 of the poet-activist’s letters to people you’d expect and some you wouldn’t.” 

USA Today’s Pop Candy, 9/26/08
“Good stuff!” 

Bookviews.com, 10/08
“Will surely interest anyone who read [Ginsberg’s] work.”

Santa Fe New Mexican, 12/19/08
"A fascinating story...Morgan deftly injects notes before many of the 165 letters to give readers a sense of context. This turns Ginsberg's most private thoughts into a cohesive narrative...Watching Ginsberg mature as an artist in his private letters is a pleasure."

Nextbook.org, 1/25/09
“Reading The Letters of Allen Ginsberg is an unexpectedly moving experience…His letters show that…there was something rare and genuine about Allen Ginsberg. He may have been a fool, but he was a holy fool; and next to his holiness, the maturity and realism of his critics can look a bit unlovely.”

HistoryWire.com, 1/24/09
“[An] extraordinary collection.”

The Advocate, 9/9/08
“The Beat poet comes alive in his first letter to the editor of The New York Times at age 15, the desperate breakup note to writer Neal Cassady, and throughout his lifelong engagement with politics, literature, and famous friends.”
Beat Scene, 9/08
“Ginsberg was the central information centre for the Beat Generation and that is so evident from these letters…A major collection…Any self respecting observer of the Beat Generation should have this book.”
“Worshippers of Howl and the Beat Generation will revel in this impressive collection of correspondence between Ginsberg and myriad other luminaries…The letters…are extraordinary in their quality, in their content, and in their revelations about his personal and poetic desires, his struggles and success.”

Product Details

Da Capo Press
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Hachette Digital, Inc.
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Meet the Author

In 1956, Allen Ginsberg published “Howl,” one of the most widely read and translated poems of the twentieth century. Ginsberg was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and cofounder of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa Institute.

Bill Morgan, Allen Ginsberg's literary archivist for many years, is the author of a biography of Ginsberg and editor of The Book of Martyrdom and Artifice, Ginsberg's early journals. He lives in New York City.

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