Beginning in the late 1940's, American literature discovered a four-letter word, and the word was "beat." Beat as in poverty and beatitude, ecstasy and exile. Beat was Jack Kerouac touring the American road in prose as fast and reckless as a V-8 Chevy. It was the junk-sick surrealism of William Burroughs; the wild, Whitmanesque poetry of Allen Ginsberg; and the lumberjack Zen of Gary Snyder. The Portable Beat Reader collects the most significant writing of these and fellow members (and spiritual descendants) of the Beat Generation, including Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso, Diane di Prima, Bob Dylan, Leroi Jones, and Michael McClure. In poetry, fiction, essays, song lyrics, letters, and memoirs, it captures the triumphant rudeness, energy, and exhilaration of a movement that swept through American letters with hurricane force.
The Portable Beat Reader is an excellent and thorough study of the Beat Generation, compiled and edited by Ann Charters, biographer of Jack Kerouac and one of our most notable experts on Beat literature and ideas. This lively work of scholarship goes deeply into the history of the Beat movement, investigating events such as the discovery (by writer William Burroughs) of the word beat to describe this literary generation. The reader includes essays on all the major prose and poetry writers, such as Allen Ginsberg, and offers rare insight into the literary-historical context of the movement.