Spirituality and the Beat Generation

Document Type



The sprituality and religion of the Beat Generation, including Black Mountain School and San Francisco Poetry Renaissance authors is a vast topic. I'm not quite sure a lifetime of research could truly envelope the mystique of Gary Snyder's study of Buddhism in Japan with Joanne Kyger; Allen Ginsberg's evolution through Judaism, Hinduism, and Tibetan Buddhism; Kerouac's passion for both Christianity and Mahayana Buddhism; Diane di Prima's development from Zen to Tibetan Buddhism, with western magical practices too; and Michael McClure's relationship with both the visionary and scientific, and Zen Buddhism. The field is enormous, and sadly--or, fortunately for the young scholar--disregarded in most literary criticism and theory. The study of religion in the post-World War era, when much of America was booming financially but deprived culturally, is one of the most important influences on American poets at that time. As mentioned, little has been published on the topic of the Beat Generation's involvement with Eastern and Occult Religions. I was lucky to have found a few obscure dissertations from various mid-western colleges, and a smattering of articles published by the authors of the movement. What little there was to read on the subject left the wonderful opportunity to interview some of the surviving members of the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance and the Beat Generation. Spending time in San Francisco allowed me to speak to Michael McClure, an integral part of the famous reading at Gallery 6 where Ginsberg's Howl was first recited, and author of Scratching the Beat Surface and many volumes of poetry. Thanks to a stroke of lucky scheduling and a few pulled strings by another great mentor of mine, Robert Creely, I also was able to interview Diane di Prima, a lesser known poet, but very well established as a San Francisco Renaissance figure and political revolutionary in the 1960s. Finally, I was able to meet John Cassady, the son of the late Neal Cassady--the subject for Kerouac's Dean Moriarty in On the Road, who was able to reflect on his father's relationship with Kerouac, and his memories of Kerouac's Buddhist practice. On the East Coast, I attended the "Lowell Celebrates Kerouac!" Conference in Lowell, Massachusetts, where Kerouac was raised, in which I was able to confer with many other scholars of the Beat Generation, and speak with David Amram, a Close friend of Kerouac's in the 1950s.

Information about the Student Author

Class of 2003, Major: English

Dissemination of Results

I have plans to prepare three articles for publication and have many ideas for future research. Currently, I am in the process of constructing a study of the developemt of religion throughout the entire movement -- mainly focusing on Buddhism, as it is the religion which, in its varied forms, was most practiced by the writers I am focusing on. This essay will start with the discovery of Buddhism, how it affected the writers' work, and how it eventually led to the founding of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Narapa Institute, a Tibetan Buddhist University. I also hope to publish an article specifically on Kerouac's Buddhist work, namely Some of the Dharma, Scripture of the Golden Eternity, The Dharma Bums, and Mexico City Blues. This article will be published in Poetrybay, a literary magazine edited by Beat scholar and poet, George Wallace. My final article will be on Diane di Prima, who has not, in my opinion, received the attention she deserves for her work and studies. Her knowledge and passion for eastern religions -- including the Tao,I Ching, Zen and Tibetan Buddhism -- mixed with her work as a healer, has shaped her work in a way that deserves commendation. I hope to continue studying this topic, as there is much more of which I know only the surface, and have been considering focusing on this topic at the doctoral level.

Faculty Mentor

William Offutt, Ph.D. and Walter Raubicheck, Ph.D., Professors of English

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