Allen Ginsberg

Poet / Activist

Born: 3 June 1926
Died: 5 April 1997 (cancer-related heart attack)
Birthplace: Newark, New Jersey
Best known as:

The Beat-era poet who wrote Howl

Allen Ginsberg's groundbreaking poem Howl began with the words, "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix..." As a student at Columbia University in New York in the 1950s, Ginsberg fell in with rebel writers such as Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs, along with muse and object-of-affection Neal Cassady. Ginsberg traveled to San Francisco, where his 1955 public reading of Howl launched the poem as a counterculture hit, helped along by the publicity over an obscenity charge against Ginsberg, a homosexual. During the 1960s Allen Ginsberg became one of the more prominent figures in the American anti-war movement, as he also joined love-ins, took LSD, and generally grabbed every opportunity to harass the authorities. Still, his anger and rebellion were perceived as generally good-natured, and in 1974 he won the National Book Award for The Fall of America: Poems of These States, 1965-1971. In his later years, Ginsberg served as a kind of Grand Old Man of pop counterculture, even appearing in a video for MTV in 1996.

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