No poem is more closely identified with the Beat Generation than Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl.” From its first public reading at the Six Gallery in San Francisco in October 1955 to the notorious obscenity trial that followed in the wake of its first publication in 1956, the poem is indelibly tied to the Beat Generation and their critique of the staid morals and customs of Eisenhower-era America. In cooperation with The Allen Ginsberg Estate, Stanford Libraries has recently digitized Allen Ginsberg’s original drafts of “Howl,” providing a unique perspective on Ginsberg’s creative process and the creation of American literary classic.
When the full text of the poem was published in 1956 by City Lights Books, it launched Ginsberg’s literary career, along with his notoriety. In 1957, US Customs confiscated copies of Howl and Other Poems, when they arrived in New York from the printer in England. Months later, City Lights owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti and bookstore manager Shig Murao were arrested for the publication and sale of the book, setting the stage for what would become a high-profile obscenity trial.