beat generation, term applied to certain American artists and writers who were popular during the 1950s. Essentially anarchic, members of the beat generation rejected traditional social and artistic forms. The beats sought immediate expression in multiple, intense experiences and beatific illumination like that of some Eastern religions (e.g., Zen Buddhism). In literature they adopted rhythms of simple American speech and of bop and progressive jazz. Among those associated with the movement were the novelists Jack Kerouac and Chandler Brossard, numerous poets (e.g., Kenneth Rexroth, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Gregory Corso), and others, many of whom worked in and around San Francisco. Perhaps the only true nihilist of the group was William S. Burroughs. During the 1960s "beat" ideas and attitudes were absorbed by other cultural movements, and those who practiced something akin to the "beat" lifestyle were called "hippies."
See B. Cook, The Beat Generation (1971, repr. 1982), J. Tytell, Naked Angels (1976, repr. 1991), E. H. Foster, Understanding the Beats (1992), D. Sterritt, Mad to Be Saved: The Beats, the 50s, and Film (1998), and J. Campbell, This Is the Beat Generation (2001); film documentary, The Source (1999).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.