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Allen Ginsberg
Allen Ginsberg in 1978
Allen Ginsberg in 1978
Born Irwin Allen Ginsberg
(1926-06-03)June 3, 1926
Newark, New Jersey, U.S.
Died April 5, 1997(1997-04-05) (aged 70)
New York City, U.S.
Occupation Writer, poet
Education Columbia University (B.A.)
Literary movement Beat literature, hippie
Confessional poetry
Notable awards National Book Award (1974)
Robert Frost Medal (1986)
Partner Peter Orlovsky (1954–1997; Ginsberg's death)

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Irwin Allen Ginsberg (June 3, 1926 – April 5, 1997) was an American poet and author, who was part of the Beat Generation movement of poets in the 1950s.

Early life and family

Ginsberg was born into a Jewish family in Newark, New Jersey, and grew up in nearby Paterson. He was the second son of Louis Ginsberg, a schoolteacher and sometime poet, and the former Naomi Levy, born in Nevel (Russia) and a fervent Marxist.

As a teenager, Ginsberg began to write letters to The New York Times about political issues, such as World War II and workers' rights. He published his first poems in the Paterson Morning Call. While in high school, Ginsberg became interested in the works of Walt Whitman, inspired by his teacher's passionate reading. In 1943, Ginsberg graduated from Eastside High School and briefly attended Montclair State College before entering Columbia University on a scholarship from the Young Men's Hebrew Association of Paterson.

In 1945, he joined the Merchant Marine to earn money to continue his education at Columbia. While at Columbia, Ginsberg contributed to the Columbia Review literary journal, the Jester humor magazine, won the Woodberry Poetry Prize, served as president of the Philolexian Society (literary and debate group), and joined Boar's Head Society (poetry society). He was a resident of Hartley Hall, where other Beat Generation poets such as Jack Kerouac and Herbert Gold also lived. Ginsberg has stated that he considered his required freshman seminar in Great Books, taught by Lionel Trilling, to be his favorite Columbia course.

New York Beats

Allen ginsberg 675
Allen Ginsberg, 1979

In Ginsberg's first year at Columbia he met fellow undergraduate Lucien Carr, who introduced him to a number of future Beat writers, including Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and John Clellon Holmes. They bonded, because they saw in one another an excitement about the potential of American youth, a potential that existed outside the strict conformist confines of post–World War II, McCarthy-era America.

Though the term "Beat" is most accurately applied to Ginsberg and his closest friends (Corso, Orlovsky, Kerouac, Burroughs, etc.), the term "Beat Generation" has become associated with many of the other poets Ginsberg met and became friends with in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Some of these friends include: David Amram, Bob Kaufman; Diane di Prima; Jim Cohn; poets associated with the Black Mountain College such as Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, and Denise Levertov; poets associated with the New York School such as Frank O'Hara and Kenneth Koch.

Work

Most of Ginsberg's very early poetry was written in formal rhyme and meter like that of his father, and of his idol William Blake. His admiration for the writing of Jack Kerouac inspired him to take poetry more seriously. In 1955, Ginsberg dropped out of the working world to devote his entire life to poetry. Soon after, he wrote Howl, the poem that brought him and his Beat Generation contemporaries to national attention and allowed him to live as a professional poet for the rest of his life.

Howl was a long poem about the social conditions of the United States in the 1950s. It began with the words "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness." It went on to describe the frustration felt by many Americans, young people and minorities in particular. There were problems in the country, such as prejudice and intolerance, that needed to be spoken about. Ginsberg published the poem, and also performed it at public poetry readings.

Later in life, Ginsberg entered academia, teaching poetry as Distinguished Professor of English at Brooklyn College from 1986 until his death.

Death

Ginsberg died on April 5, 1997, surrounded by family and friends in his East Village loft in Manhattan, succumbing to liver cancer via complications of hepatitis at the age of 70. Gregory Corso, Roy Lichtenstein, Patti Smith and others came by to pay their respects. He was cremated, and his ashes were buried in his family plot in Gomel Chesed Cemetery in Newark. He was survived by Orlovsky.

Honors

His collection The Fall of America shared the annual U.S. National Book Award for Poetry in 1974. In 1979, he received the National Arts Club gold medal and was inducted into the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. In 1986, Ginsberg was awarded the Golden Wreath by the Struga Poetry Evenings International Festival in Macedonia, the second American poet to be so awarded since W. H. Auden. Ginsberg was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1995 for his book Cosmopolitan Greetings: Poems 1986–1992. In 1993, he received a John Jay Award posthumously from Columbia.

In 2014, Ginsberg was one of the inaugural honorees in the Rainbow Honor Walk, a walk of fame in San Francisco's Castro neighborhood noting LGBTQ people who have "made significant contributions in their fields."

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See also

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