Allen Ginsberg

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Allen Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg, one of America's best known poets[1], was born June 3, 1926, in Newark, New Jersey. Along with others such as Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs, he became part of what was dubbed the "Beat Generation" of writers. He's most famous for his long poem, "Howl," which drew national attention in 1956 when it was challenged on obscenity charges. He died of liver cancer on April 5, 1997.[2] Ginsberg was supporter of homosexual rights, and was an anti-war, anti-nuclear and environmental activist, and is known for his controversial behavior. He was widely criticised, even by friends and supporters, when he joined the notorious North American Man/Boy Love Association, or NAMBLA.[3] In "Thoughts on NAMBLA," Ginsberg claims his reasons for joining the organisation: "NAMBLA's a forum for reform of those laws on youthful sexuality which members deem oppressive, (it is) a discussion society not a sex club. I joined NAMBLA in defense of free speech."[4]

Ginsberg became a student of the well-known Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa after a chance meeting in New York City in 1970.[5]

His most famous works include:

He studied at Columbia University in the 1940s and moved to San Fransisco in 1954.[6] Howl and Other Poems was published in 1956, and in May of that year, US Customs seized a shipment of the books as they were being sent from the printer (Villiers in London) to City Lights Books in San Francisco. After federal authorities declined Customs Chief Chester McPhee's urging to pursue obscenity charges, the matter was referred to the San Francisco Police Department, who arrested publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, charging him with publishing and selling an obscene and indecent book. The charge was rejected in October 1957 after a widely publicized trial when Judge Clayton Horn ruled that the book had redeeming social value.[7]

During the trial, Ginsberg was living in Paris with his partner Peter Orlovsky. They remained together for forty years, until Ginsberg's death.[8]


  4. Bill Morgan, ed., Deliberate Prose: Selected Essays 1952-1995. New York: HarperCollins (2000), ISBN 0-06-093081-0 (p.170)