Founders Of The Beat Movement: Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg And William Burroughs

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The Beat Generation

The Beat Generation was a literary movement throughout the 1940s and ’50s. Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs founded the Beat movement in the late 1940s after all three met at Columbia University in 1944. They were recognised as a generation of post-World War Two youths whose attitudes towards life and society were very different from the typical American.

Founders of the Beat movement

The founders of the Beat movement were Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs.

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Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac was born on 12th March 1922 in Massachusetts. He attended a French-Canadian school in the morning but continued his English studies in the afternoon. He met Henri Cru and Seymour Wyse, who introduced jazz to Kerouac, at the Horace Mann School. Kerouac would later attend Columbia University, enrolling in 1940. There he met Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, together with becoming the main figures of the Beat Generation.

One of Jack Kerouac’s notable and more famous works is On The Road. Based on Kerouac and his friends’ travels across the U.S.A, it features the characters’ own experiences with drug use, poetry and jazz. On The Road is considered one of the defining pieces of the Beat Movement, advocating for the emotional consciousness induced by jazz, drugs and poetry.

William Burroughs

William Burroughs was born on 5th February 1914 in Missouri. Burroughs was named after his grandfather, an inventor who founded the Burroughs Adding Machine company. Burroughs travelled to New York in the mid-1940s, meeting Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

Burroughs and Kerouac collaborated on And The Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks; about the murder of David Kammerer. It remained unpublished until 2008. Another famous work by Burroughs is Naked Lunch. Naked Lunch is narrated by the character William Lee (an alias used to represent Burroughs himself, with the book featuring his own experiences) and displays his addiction to drugs – a key feature in Beat writing being sensory awareness and experiences induced by drugs.

Allen Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg was born on 3rd July 1926 in New Jersey. Ginsberg’s father, Louis Ginsberg, was a poet himself and taught English in Paterson. Ginsberg’s mother, Naomi Ginsberg, was kept in a mental hospital for years and then died of a stroke two days after a prefrontal lobotomy. He mourned his mother in the long poem Kaddish.

Ginsberg’s most famous poem Howl was very controversial, celebrating counter-culture as a rebellious cry against an abusive, capitalist and controlling society by talking about the suffering of people, and their reckless lifestyles and habits. Ginsberg made references to anti-war and anti-capitalist opinions, drug use and homosexuality; all of which were considered radical and obscene.


Howl, by Allen Ginsberg, is the most famous piece of Beat writing. The poem provides a representation of both the emotional and political awareness Beat poets advocated for, giving the readers insight into Ginsberg’s own experiences. Howl is known as a celebration of counter-culture, addressing the abusive society Ginsberg describes in the long poem.

Howl’s history is an interesting and controversial topic. In 1957, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who published Howl, was arrested after his partner, Shigayoshi Murao, sold a paperback copy of the poem to an undercover police officer. Both Ferlinghetti and Murao were out on trial for the obscenity charges Howl was facing. However, academics, poets and critics testified for the poem claiming it had social value and was an example of young minds attitudes towards the post-World War II world. It was later ruled not obscene.

The Origins of The Beat Movement and The Murder of David Kammerer

David Kammerer was born on the 2nd September 1911 in Saint Louis, Missouri. He was the Boy Scout leader of Lucien Carr, who would later kill him. In 1937, Kammerer and Carr met at the Boy Scouts when Carr was 12 years old and Kammerer, 26. Kammerer admired Carr, and, after she found many letters of longing written from Kammerer to her son, Carr’s mother sent her son to Chicago, Andover, Maine and then New York. Every time followed by a persistent David Kammerer.

His persistence grew in 1944 after Carr met Allen Ginsberg at the Columbia University alongside William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac – all close friends of one another.

After Kammerer’s death, Carr was convinced by Kerouac to go to the police. Carr confessed before the body surfaced in the Hudson. Kerouac and Burroughs were arrested as witnesses once Carr had told law enforcement that he had met with them before and after the killing. “Columbia student kills a friend and sinks body in the Hudson River” was printed across the front page of the New York Times.

Burroughs and Kerouac later collaborated on “And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks”, inspired by Lucien Carr and the events of August, 1944. This novel remained unpublished until 2008, despite being written in 1945, a full ten years before either Burroughs, Kerouac or Ginsberg would become known across the country.

Lucien Carr was a prominent figure among Burroughs, Kerouac and Ginsberg when they attended Columbia University. He introduced Ginsberg to both Burroughs, Kerouac and the style of writing now featured in Beat literature.


Beat writing was, and still is, considered fairly controversial. The frequent conflict with the law, anti-Capitalist ideologies, opposition to the typical American lifestyle, etc; all of created an environment where the middle to upper-class ideals of a materialistic society focused on war and economic growth was challenged rather than accepted. It celebrated the defiance of typical politics and opinions.

Writers like Ginsberg, Burroughs and Kerouac aimed to publicly advocate for the use of drugs, sex, Zen Buddhism and jazz music to experience the utmost emotional highs and lows of life and society. Their literature created a vision of a world without economic or political class and hierarchies which paved the way for many future artists to express political opinions and ideologies through art and emotion, giving the people a voice to represent themselves.


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