In the mid 1940s, a group of writers came together in New York City. Hanging around Times Square, writing about drugs, homosexuality and alternative forms of spirituality, these artists pushed the limits of what was socially acceptable in the conformist 40s and 50s.
They were the friends, inspirations and muses to great writers like Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, and they helped forge a countercultural movement that would become know as The Beat Generation.
Lucien Carr was born March 1, 1925 in New York City to Russell Carr and Marian Gratz Carr, who were both products of socially prominent St. Louis families.
As a young teenager, Carr met David Kammerer, an English teacher at Washington University in St. Louis. Kammerer was leading a youth group of which Carr was a member and he immediately became infatuated with the boy. For the next five years, Kammerer followed Carr as he moved from city to city and enrolled at Columbia University.
While at school, Carr met and befriended Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac on separate occasions. He met Ginsberg first, in the dormitory they were both living in, when Ginsberg knocked on Carr’s door to find out who was playing a recording of a Brahms trio. Not long after, Carr met Edie Parker, who was dating Kerouac at the time.
It was Lucien Carr who introduced Ginsberg and Kerouac. The core group of the New York Beat scene was complete when Carr further introduced Ginsberg and Kerouac to his older friend, William S. Burroughs, another member of the wealthy social circle in St. Louis.
Burroughs also knew Kammerer, as they had been childhood friends and, as young men, traveled to Paris together. But, as close as they may have been, Burroughs did not condone Kammerer’s behaviour toward Carr. And Carr finally reached his breaking point with his admirer.
In 1944, Carr murdered David Kammerer, in what he said was self-defense, and Kerouac and Burroughs were arrested as material witnesses.
After serving two years in prison, Carr went to work for United Press International. He began as a copy boy and finished his 47 year career as a news editor. He died Jan. 28, 2005 at the age of 79 in Washington, D.C.
According to author Bill Morgan in his book, Beat Generation in New York, the Carr incident inspired Kerouac and Burroughs, in 1945, to write the novel And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, which was published for the first time in November 2008.
Gregory Nunzio Corso was born March 26, 1930 in New York City to Italian mother Michelina Colonna and Italian American father Sam Corso.
At the age of 20, Corso was recently released from prison and beginning to write poetry. He was supported as an “artist-in-residence” by the Pony Stable, one of New York’s first openly lesbian bars. It was here, while Corso was writing poetry, that he met Allen Ginsberg.
Ginsberg, who was cruising bars, later said he walked into the Pony Stable and immediately noticed Corso, who was sitting at a table alone. Not knowing if Corso was gay, Ginsberg struck up a conversation with him and, after reading Corso’s poems, was impressed with his obvious talent.
Until he met Ginsberg, Corso had read only traditional poetry, but Ginsberg introduced him to contemporary, experimental styles. Eventually, Ginsberg also introduced Corso to the rest of the New York Beat writers.
Corso was the youngest of the inner circle of Beat writers. He died Jan. 17, 2001 at the age of 70 in Robbinsdale, Minnesota.
His works include The Vestal Lady On Brattle and Other Poems; Gasoline; Bomb; The American Express; The Night Last Night was at its Nightest; Mindfield and Minutes to Go, written with Sinclair Beiles, William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin.
Herbert Edwin Huncke was born Jan. 9, 1915 in Greenfield, Massachusetts. He grew up in Chicago but left home when he was a teenager, after his parents divorced.
Huncke arrived in New York City in 1939 and immediately became a regular on 42nd Street, where he was a bisexual hustler, drug user, thief and burglar. He had begun writing in Chicago and, although unpublished himself, gravitated toward literary types and musicians. In New York, Huncke frequented the jazz clubs and associated with Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker and Dexter Gordon. He eventually earned the title, “Mayor of 42nd Street.”
Huncke first met William S. Burroughs on 42nd Street, when Burroughs, selling a sub-machine gun and morphine, approached him. Huncke, after being assured Burroughs was not an undercover cop, bought the morphine and the two men became immediate friends when Huncke gave Burroughs an injection.
Huncke first met Ginsberg and Kerouac before they were published and both aspiring writers were inspired by his stories of 42nd Street life and crime. He was immortalized in Kerouac’s On the Road as street smart character Elmer Hassel.
He died Aug. 8, 1996 at the age of 81 in New York City.
Huncke would eventually get published and his works include Guilty of Everything: The Autobiography of Herbert Huncke; The Evening Sun Turned Crimson; and Huncke’s Journal.
John Clellon Holmes
John Clellon Holmes was born March 12, 1926 in Holyoke, Massachusetts.
Holmes first met Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg at a 4th of July party in 1948 in New York. He and Kerouac, both just starting out as writers, struck up an immediate friendship based on their mutual interest in writing.
It was in 1948, during a conversation between Holmes and Kerouac, when the term that would define an entire generation and cultural movement was invented. Holmes asked Kerouac to describe the unique qualities of his generation and Kerouac replied, “You know, this is really a Beat Generation.”
On Nov. 16, 1952, Holmes published an article in The New York Times Magazine entitled This is the Beat Generation, introducing the phrase to the world. In the article he attributes the term to Kerouac who originally got the idea from Huncke.
Holmes was best known for his 1952 novel Go, which is considered the first Beat novel and depicts his life with Kerouac, Cassady and Ginsberg. He died March 30, 1988 at the age of 62 in Middleton, Connecticut.
His works also include The Horn; Get Home Free; Nothing More to Declare; The Bowling Green Poems; Visitor: Jack Kerouac in Old Saybrook; Gone in October: Last Reflections on Jack Kerouac; Displaced Person: The Travel Essays; Representative Men: The Biographical Essays and Night Music: Selected Poems.