Beat Writers

William S. Burroughs Papers

William S. Burroughs (1914-1997) wrote some of the most influential experimental novels of the Beat Generation. His fiction and visual art explored drug addition, sexuality, mythology, and the occult, and his use of experimental “cut-up” technique inspired postmodern literary methodology. The Burroughs papers include correspondence with Allen Ginsberg and other collaborators, photographs, and drafts and galleys for novels including The Soft Machine, Nova Express, Naked Lunch, The Yage Letters, and Junkie.

Herbert Huncke Papers

As a teenage runaway to New York City, drug user, and street hustler in Times Square, Herbert Huncke (1915-1996) attracted the interest of sexologist Alfred Kinsey as well as writers William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg, all of whom would make him into characters in their works. The collection includes correspondence, largely conducted from prison, as well as published and unpublished manuscripts, journals, and notebooks dating from 1946-1973.

Jack Kerouac Papers

Beat author Jack Kerouac’s (1922-1969) famous 1957 autobiographical novel On The Road introduced a generation to the Beatnik mystique of adventurous experimentation with drugs, sex, jazz, Buddhism, and alternative culture. The collection consists of one box of miscellaneous material including letters between Kerouac and William Burroughs and other friends and admirers, poetry and prose manuscripts, clippings, and proofs for the novels Desolation Angels and Tristessa.

Lucien Carr Papers

At Columbia in the 1940s, Lucien Carr (1925-2005) served as muse and catalyst for what would become the Beat movement, connecting William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac. In 1944, he killed Charles Kammerer, a member of their circle, ostensibly in response to Kammerer’s violent sexual advances; he would spend two years in prison for manslaughter. After his release he never played a central role in the Beat world, though he remained a close friend and supporter to his college friends. The collection (1951-1975) consists of one box including Carr’s correspondence with Kerouac and Ginsberg (including fragments of poems and works in progress) as well as miscellaneous articles, publications, and reviews pertaining to Beat writers.

Allen Ginsberg Papers

Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) was one of the most influential poets, queer icons, and countercultural figures of the second half of the twentieth century. His poetry—most famously the incendiary 1955 poem "Howl," which prompted an obscenity trial and catapulted the Beats into the cultural limelight—addresses (homo)sexuality, madness, materialism, social conformity, and spirituality. The collection (1943-1991, bulk 1945-1976) includes his correspondence with family members, fellow Beat writers, and Columbia professors; manuscripts, drafts, and galleys from writings by Ginsberg and other writers, including Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Gregory Corso; drawings, sketches, and photographs; audio recordings of Ginsberg reading William Blake’s poetry; and books, magazines, and periodicals belonging to or addressing Ginsberg and his work.

Peggy Biderman Photographs

Photographer and activist Peggy Biderman (1926-1991) participated in pacifist and civil rights movements, worked at the Museum of Modern Art, and became friends with a variety of prominent literary and artistic figures from Beat writers Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso to punk icon Patti Smith and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. The collection consists of one box of color prints of photographs taken by Biderman in the 1970s of Corso, Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and others.

Robert LaVigne Papers

Robert LaVigne (1928-2014) took part in the Beat and San Francisco Renaissance literary movements as a painter, illustrator, and set designer. In San Francisco, where he worked for the Actors Workshop and Auerhahn Press, he became with lovers with Peter Orlovsky, who would meet his life partner Allen Ginsberg at LaVigne’s studio. In New York, he became known for his innovative psychedelic painting style and garnered awards for his theater design work. The collection (1954-1969) contains correspondence with a variety of friends and literary figures, including poetry manuscripts sent to LaVigne for review, original artwork including paintings, sketches, prints, and costume designs, and announcements for exhibitions and events.

Gregory Corso Papers

Gregory Corso (1930-2001) emerged from a troubled childhood and stints in and out of prison and poverty to become an influential Beat poet, inspiring audiences with his exuberant, streetwise poems drawing on jazz rhythms. Along with his friend Allen Ginsberg, he co-authored “The Literary Revolution in America,” articulating his belief in the transformative and utopian power of poetry. His papers (1949-1996) include his published and unpublished writings, correspondence, artwork, photographs, and audio recordings of Corso and other Beats.

See also: the Columbia Oral History Collection includes a Gregory Corso interview from the “Poets on Their Poetry” Project.

Peter Orlovsky Papers

Peter Orlovsky (1933-2010), Allen Ginsberg’s partner of over forty years, was born in poverty on the Lower East Side, but eventually traveled the world, wrote poetry, letters, and journals, studied Buddhism, appeared in experimental films, and taught poetry at the Naropa Institute in Colorado. The collection consists of a single box of correspondence with Ginsberg and other Beat figures, a diary from 1954-55, and miscellaneous drawings and photographs.

Ann Charters Photographs

Professor of American literature Ann Charters (b. 1936), inspired by a San Francisco reading by Allen Ginsberg she attended as an undergraduate in 1955, has devoted her career to documenting and studying the Beat movement and other literary and artistic figures. This collection includes twenty-five portrait photographs she took of prominent Beat figures, including Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, and William Burroughs.

Barry Miles Papers

The British writer and producer Barry Miles (b. 1943) has authored biographies of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, William Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg, along with books on the London counterculture and music scenes in which he was an active participant. The collection primarily consists of material relating to Ginsberg and Burroughs, including correspondence, original manuscripts, drafts, audio tapes, and documents relating to an annotated edition of Ginsberg’s Howl, as well as miscellaneous manuscripts and correspondence relating to other figures including Andy Warhol, Diane Di Prima, and others.