Biography / Administrative History
Scope and Content of Collection
Language of Material:
Department of Special Collections and University Archives
Title: Allen Ginsberg papers
Identifier/Call Number: M0733
1000 Linear Feet
Date (inclusive): 1937-1994
Abstract: Collection contains correspondence, manuscripts by Ginsberg and other poets and authors, business records, notebooks and journals,
clipping files, books, periodicals, audiotapes, videotapes, photographs, and posters. Some accessions have not yet been processed.
Collection is open for research; materials must be requested at least 36 hours in advance of intended use. Selected audiovisual
and photographic material has been digitized.
While Special Collections is the owner of the physical and digital items, permission to examine collection materials is not
an authorization to publish. These materials are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. Any transmission
or reproduction beyond that allowed by fair use requires permission from the owners of rights, heir(s) or assigns.
Allen Ginsberg papers, M0733. Dept. of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, Calif.
Biography / Administrative History
Irwin Allen Ginsberg was born on June 3, 1926 in Newark, New Jersey to Louis and Naomi (Levy) Ginsberg. Louis Ginsberg, who
died in 1976, was a high school English teacher and poet who was politically a socialist but socially conservative; Louis
often disagreed with his son's writings. Naomi Ginsberg, a Russian-born Jew and a dedicated Marxist, died in a mental institution
in 1956. Ginsberg documented his mother's illness and its impact on his life in "Kaddish for Naomi Ginsberg (1894-1956),"
better known simply as "Kaddish."
Ginsberg and his older brother, lawyer and poet Eugene Brooks, grew up in Paterson, New Jersey. Ginsberg enrolled at Columbia
University on a Young Men's Hebrew Association scholarship in 1943. Originally intending to major in pre-law, he changed his
major to literature and studied with Mark Van Doren and Lionel Trilling, with whom he frequently clashed artistically.
The greatest influence on Ginsberg's artistic as well as personal development was his off-campus circle of friends, including
most notably Jack Kerouac, a former Columbia student four years older than Ginsberg; and William S. Burroughs, who introduced
Ginsberg to the literature of rebellion as well as illicit drugs, and who would publish in 1959 his surreal satire of American
Naked Lunch. Herbert Huncke, John Clellon Holmes, Lucien Carr, and Neal Cassady were also part of this extended network of literary-minded
friends, and comprised the core of the Beat Generation which would begin to surface as a movement in the mid-1950s with the
publication of Ginsberg's
Howl and Kerouac's bohemian-hobo novel
On the Road.
Ginsberg's major personal problems arose out of attempts to deal with his homosexuality and with brushes-by-association with
the law. In the aftermath of the murder of his friend David Kammerer by Lucien Carr in 1945, Ginsberg was suspended from Columbia
for a year, during which he worked as a merchant marine, a Times Square restaurant dishwasher, and a reporter for a New Jersey
newspaper. Returning to Columbia, he maintained an A-minus average and took his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1948.
Early the following year Herbert Huncke moved into Ginsberg's apartment after being released from jail. Huncke began using
Ginsberg's to store stolen property that he was selling to support his drug habit. When Huncke was arrested and sentenced
to five years in prison, Ginsberg was circumstantially implicated and pled psychological disability to avoid a jail sentence.
He was committed to the Columbia Psychiatric Institute for eight months. There he became friends with Carl Solomon, the "lunatic
saint" to whom he would dedicate "Howl."
After his release from the Institute, Ginsberg moved in with his father and step-mother, Edith Ginsberg. During his stay,
he met and befriended physician and poet William Carlos Williams, who impressed on Ginsberg the importance of paying attention
to the world immediately around him and recording his observations in the rhythms of idiomatic American English. The model
for such language was Neal Cassady, a high-energy athlete, ex-con, spellbinder, and lyrical talker.
Ginsberg remained in the New York City area until 1953, supporting himself mainly as a market researcher. He left New York
City in December 1953 to follow Neal Cassady, who had married and moved to San Jose, California, and after visiting Cuba and
the Yucatan, arrived in San Jose in 1954, where he lived with Neal and his wife Carolyn, until she evicted him after finding
him in bed with her husband.
Ginsberg moved to San Francisco, acquired a live-in girlfriend, a well-paid job, and a middle-class apartment and tried living
a life of middle-class domesticity. After a year of this, he decided, with his psychiatrist's blessings, to end the charade,
quit his job, and move in with his boyfriend, Peter Orlovsky.
In San Francisco, Ginsberg became part of the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance, a literary circle including Kenneth Rexroth,
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, Philip Lamantia, Robert Duncan, and Philip Whalen. In October 1955, Rexroth
hosted a poetry reading at the Six Gallery in San Francisco in which Snyder, McClure, Whalen, Lamantia, and Ginsberg participated.
Ginsberg read his newly written poem "Howl."
In 1956, Lawrence Ferlinghetti published
Howl and Other Poems in his Pocket Poets series. United States Customs officers and the San Francisco police seized the edition, and Ferlinghetti
was charged with publishing an obscene book. The court case, which Ferlinghetti won in 1957, gave the book immense publicity,
and by the time the trial was over Ginsberg was widely in demand for poetry readings.
From the 1950s on, Ginsberg based himself in New York, alternating between the Cherry Valley farm that he bought and a tenement
apartment in Manhattan's Lower East Side, which he rented until 1996. He travelled extensively in Europe, Latin America, North
Africa and the Asia as well as the United States. The poems in
Planet News : 1961-1967 (City Lights, 1968) constitute a poetic record of Ginsberg's travels in Eastern Europe, the Indian subcontinent, other parts
of Asia, as well as in the United States. Included in the collection was "Wichita Vortex Sutra," inspired by his tour of Midwestern
universities. The collection
The Fall of America : Poems of These States, 1965-1971 (City Lights, 1973) earned Ginsberg the National Book Award.
Into the 1960s he experimented heavily with drugs, including LSD under the guidance of Timothy Leary, partly as an aid to
poetic creation. The first two parts of "Kaddish to Naomi Ginsberg (1894-1956)", published in
Kaddish and Other Poems (City Lights, 1961), were written under the influence of a combination of amphetamines and morphine. Around 1960, Ginsberg
began seeking the counsel of Martin Buber in Israel and of holy men in India and emerged with a new attitude; he began to
preach of the superiority of yoga and meditation over the use of drugs, but he did not rule out the usefulness of such psychedelics
as marijuana, peyote, and, occasionally, LSD. While he warned against the use of addictive drugs, he fought against the government's
manipulation of the publicized danger of those drugs and campaigned for a liberalization of drug laws.
Ginsberg became a spiritual leader for the hippie and Yippie movements during the 1960s. Ginsberg invented the term "flower
power" in 1965 and was the driving force behind the Gathering of the Tribes for a Human Be-In held in Golden Gate Park in
San Francisco in January 1967. Later in the same year, he was arrested in an anti-Vietnam war demonstration in New York City,
and during the demonstration at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago he was teargassed by police while trying to calm
the crowd by chanting mantras. At the conspiracy trial of the Chicago demonstrators, known as the Chicago Seven, he testified
for the defense.
In 1974, Ginsberg helped to found the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics of the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado,
a Buddhist university where he continued to teach courses in poetry and Buddhist meditation until his death. In 1974 he was
also inducted into the American Institute of Arts and Letters. Ginsberg began to hope for any salvation for America and took
refuge in Buddhism under the guidance of Trungpa Chogyam, the Tibetan guru who supervised the Naropa Institute. In addition
to instructing Ginsberg in Kagu Buddhist meditation, Trungpa served as his general adviser, in artistic as well as spiritual
After the Vietnam War, Ginsberg concentrated his political efforts on exposing alleged CIA subsidization of drug trafficking;
in attempts at reforming American drug laws; in environmental and antinuclear causes; in sexual freedom causes; and in speaking
out against abuses of authority by governmental agencies including the FBI, CIA, and police forces. Ginsberg became an outspoken
critic of the Reagan Administration's intervention in Nicaragua. He wrote "Plutonian Ode" for a demonstration at the Rocky
Flats, Colorado plutonium works.
After publishing his books for years with small alternative presses, Ginsberg signed a $160,000 contract with Harper & Row
for six books. The first,
Collected Poems, 1947-1980 was published in 1984.
White Shroud was published in 1986, bringing together the poems that Ginsberg wrote between 1980 and 1985, and
Cosmopolitan Greetings was published in 1994.
Ginsberg's books of prose include
Indian Journals (1970),
Allen Verbatim: Lectures on Poetry, Politics, Consciousness (McGraw-Hill, 1974),
Journals : Early Fifties-Early Sixties (Grove, 1977), both edited by Gordon Ball.
Ginsberg made scores of recordings, including an album in the
Spoken Arts Treasury of 100 American Poets (Volume XVI, 1969),
William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience Tuned by Allen Ginsberg (MGM, 1970),
First Blues : songs, and many poetry readings in limited editions. CD releases have included
The Lion For Real (1989) and
The Ballad of the Skeletons (1996), as well as collaborative efforts with Philip Glass,
Hydrogen Jukebox (1993), and the Kronos Quartet,
Howl U.S.A. (1996).
In 1960's, Ginsberg appeared in some of the most famous experimental films of the decade, including the Robert Frank’s
Pull My Daisy. His longtime interest in the visual arts, especially photography, a practice encouraged by his longtime friend Frank, have
now been collected in two books,
Photographs (1991) and
Snapshot Poetics (1993). Ginsberg's photographs were also represented in a groundbreaking exhibit organized by the Whitney Museum of Art,
"Beat Culture and the New America: 1950 -1965."
Ginsberg was a visiting professor at Columbia University in 1986-87, and he taught at Brooklyn College from the fall of 1987
until his death.
Allen Ginsberg died at the age of 70 on April 6, 1997 of a heart attack triggered by liver cancer, which had only been diagnosed
a few days before.
Note: this biographical sketch draws heavily on the following:
Current Biography Yearbook 1987. New York : H. W. Wilson, 1987.
Ginsberg : a biography. New York : Simon and Schuster, 1989.
Dharma Lion : a biography of Allen Ginsberg. New York : St. Martin's Press, 1992.
Scope and Content of Collection
The Allen Ginsberg papers document the life work of one of the core members of the Beat Generation and a leading American
poet of the 20th century. The papers include personal and professional correspondence, journals, business records, personal
mementos, newspaper clippings, artwork, and other documents generated and collected by him from 1937 to 1997.
The papers are divided into the following series: 1. Correspondence, 2. Notebooks and journals, 3. Manuscripts, 4. Business
records, 5. Financial Records, 6. Committee on Poetry records, 7. Teaching materials, 8. Political files, 9. Religious materials,
10. Photographs, 11. Media, 12. Computer files, 13. Periodicals, 14. Clippings, 15. Memorabilia, 16. Posters, 17. Printed
Ephemera, 18. Artwork, 19. Musical scores, 20. Obsolete indices, 21. 2011 Accession (journal from 1946 and fourteen folders
Wherever Ginsberg's original arrangement of materials was encountered, the order was retained. However, materials previously
housed at Columbia University show signs of having been rearranged significantly. As a result, several series show evidence
of conflicting intellectual arrangements, one imposed by Ginsberg and his staff, another by third parties. When possible,
series notes will indicate which portions reflect Ginsberg's own arrangement system and which reflect later processing.
Subjects and Indexing Terms
American literature -- 20th century.
Baraka, Imamu Amiri
Burroughs, William S.
Di Prima, Diane.
Dellinger, David T.
Creeley, Robert, 1926-2005
Bowles, Paul, 1910–1999
Yevtushenko, Yevgeny Aleksandrovich
Ford, Charles Henri.
Williams, William Carlos
Levertov, Denise, 1923-1997
Levy, D. A.
Lebel, Jean Jacques.
Holmes, John Clellon
Auden, W. H. (Wystan Hugh)
Solomon, Carl W.
Rosenthal, Bob, 1950-