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A Cultural Chronology of
Early Beat Generation Literature 1944-1960

1944 | 1945 | 1946 | 1947 | 1948 | 1949 | 1950 | 1951 | 1952

1953 | 1954 | 1955 | 1956 | 1957 | 1958 | 1959 | 1960 |


  • World War II is going on throughout Europe and Phillippines; D-Day landing of U.S. and allied troops at Normandy; United Nations is established; D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover found obscene in U.S.
  • Kenneth Rexroth engineers Berkeley Renaissance with William Everson, Philip Lamantia, Robert Duncan... Circle magazine around West Coast Anarchist and Libertarian Circles around Berkeley.
  • European Surrealists in New York City during the war meet with American artists and writers.
  • First meeting of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Herbert Huncke in New York City, around Columbia University and Times Square. Kerouac marries Edie Parker while held in jail as a material witness in friend Lucien Carr's murder trial (marriage lasts a few months). Kerouac and Burroughs write novel together "And the Hippos were Boiled in their Tanks."

Broadway: Harvey, I Remember Mama
Films: Double Indemnity, Gaslight
Music: Swing is in vogue - Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Woody Herman, Tommy Dorsey
Art: Edward Hopper, Clyfford Still
Fiction: John Hershey's A Bell for Adano
Poetry: Pulitzer to Karl Shapiro's V- Letter and Other Poems


  • Harry Truman takes over presidency after death of Franklin D. Roosevelt; end of WW II- first atom bomb is dropped on Hiroshima, Japan (189,000 casualties), then Nagasaki.
  • At Columbia University, Allen Ginsberg is expelled for harboring Jack Kerouac in his room and for writing offensive protest words on his dormitory-room window.

Broadway: Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie and He Touched Me
Films: The Lost Weekend, Mildred Pierce, The Body Snatcher
Music: Be-Bop jazz evolves with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.
Art: Abstract Expressionist art is thriving throughout the Beat Era with such artists as Jackson Pollock, Mark Tobey, William de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, Franz Kline, Jasper Johns, many of whom gathered in the Greenwich Village scene with writers.


  • First U.N. General Assembly Meeting in London; national strikes in coal, railroad, General Electric industries. Post-War Baby Boom (birth rate in U.S. increases by 20%);
  • Dr. Benjamin Spock's The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care is published; advent of television use of commercial jet airlines; popularization of Jean Paul Sartre's existentialism. German Nazi's are sentenced to death at Nuremburg trials.
  • William S. Burroughs and common-law wife Joan Vollmer move to Texas with their daughter; Neal Cassady meets Kerouac and Ginsberg in New York City; Kerouac begins writing The Town and the City after the death of his father.

Broadway: O'Neil's The Iceman Cometh, Hellman's Another Part of the Forest, and Born Yesterday
Films: The Best Years of Our Lives treating dissatisfied war veterans wins Academy Award as best picture. Bogart in The Big Sleep
Fiction: Carson McCullers' A Member of the Wedding, Camus' The Stranger, Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men
Poetry: Pulitzer to Robert Lowell's Lord Weary's Castle


  • Ginsberg, Kerouac and Cassady live in Denver for summer; Cassady meets future wife Carolyn Robinson; Ginsberg and Cassady visit Burroughs in Texas.
  • Un-American Activities Committee begins hearings on Hollywood communists; college enrollment reaches all time high of 67.1 million.

Broadway: Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire
Film: Gentleman's Agreement Miracle on 34th Street
Music: Top jazz performances by Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington Band, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra
Fiction: Schulberg's The Harder They Fall, Michener's Tales of the South Pacific
Poetry: Pulitzer Prize to W.H. Auden's Age of Anxiety.


  • Truman is elected president; Mahatma Gandhi is assassinated by Hindu extremists in India; 12 Communist leaders are indicted for Smith Act Violation; publication of Alfred Kinsey's Sexual Behavior in the Human Male.
  • John Clellon Holmes meets Kerouac and Ginsberg in New York City around Columbia University where Ginsberg has re-enrolled and graduates. Ginsberg begins his series of William Blake visions. Kerouac and Cassady take first on the road trip together.

Broadway: Mr. Roberts, Anne of the Thousand Days
Films: The Red Shoes, Key Largo, Sorry, Wrong Number
Televison: "Douglas Edwards and the News," "Candid Camera," "Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts," "Milton Berle Show," "Studio One," "Philco Television Playhouse"
Music: Stan Kenton appears at Hollywood Bowl
Art: Andrew Wyeth, Ben Shahn, Arshile Gorky
Fiction:The Plague by Albert Camus, The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer.


  • North Atlantic Pact is signed, NATO is created; Apartheid begins in South Africa; 500,000 steelworkers strike; minimum wage rises from 40 cents to 75 cents an hour; fear of Cold War with Communist China and Russia grows.
  • Ginsberg is arrested in NYC for harboring stolen goods from Huncke and sent to New York State Psychiatric Institute for 8 months where he meets Carl Solomon, fellow patient and hero of "Howl" poem. Ginsberg visits William Carlos Williams. Burroughs in Mexico City.

Broadway: Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
Films: Pinky, Home of the Brave, Sands of Iwo Jima
Television: "The Goldbergs," "Captain Video and the Video Rangers" "Mama"
Music: "Cool Jazz" of Mile Davis, Jerry Mulligan, Dave Brubeck; Billie Eckstine is popular singer
Fiction: Nelson Algren's The Man with the Golden Arm, George Orwell's 1984


  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti, then Kenneth Patchen move to San Francisco; Gary Snyder, Lew Welch, and Philip Whalen at Reed College in Portland, Oregon; Rexroth conducting weekly soiree in San Francisco home; KPFA, Pacifica Foundation, first public radio, in Berkeley; Burroughs is writing novel Junkie. Kerouac's The Town & the City (Harcourt, Brace) treats life in working class Lowell, Mass. and New York City. He marries Joan Haverty for six months; travels to Denver then to Mexico to visit with Cassady to visit Burroughs.
  • Korean Police Action involvement, UN forces to be lead by General MacArthur; Senator Joeseph McCarthy charges Communist infiltration of State Department.

Broadway: Come Back, Little Sheba, The Cocktail Party
Films: All about Eve, The Asphalt Jungle Sunset Boulevard
Television: "You Bet Your Life"(Groucho Marx), "Your Hit Parade"
Music: Big Bands giving way to smaller groups-George Shearing, Count Basie.
Fiction: Faulkner's Collected Stories, Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles
Poetry: Pulitzer to Carl Sandburg's Complete Poems; books by Howard Nemerov, Delmore Schwartz, William Carlos Williams' Collecter Later Poems


  • Korean War involvement; draft age lowered to 18; U.S. conducting tests of A-Bomb; suspected Russian spies the Rosenbergs are found guilty of treason and sentenced to death.
  • Ginsberg and Kerouac meet Gregory Corso in New York City; Kerouac writes initial draft of On the Road in three weeks, becomes interested in Buddhism; Burroughs accidentally shoots and kills his wife, Joan.

Broadway: The Rose Tattoo, The Moon Is Blue
Films: An American in Paris, A Place in the Sun
Television: "Your Show of Shows" with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca; Kefauver crime hearings.
Music: Jazz figures: Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Maynard Ferguson
Fiction: J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye.
Poetry: Pulitzer to Marianne Moore's Collected Poems; books by Adrienne Rich, Randall Jarrell, Theodore Roethke


  • Truman orders seizure of U.S. Steel mills to avert strike (later ruled as unconstitutional); Eisenhower elected president of U.S. with Richard Nixon as V.P.; subversives are barred from teaching school in U.S.; England has A-Bomb and new Queen, Elizabeth II.
  • Kerouac completes Visions of Cody, lives with Neal and Carolyn Cassady in San Francisco, writes Dr. Sax while living with Burroughs in Mexico, visited by Cassady.
  • Go first Beat Generation novel by John Clellon Holmes who writes "This Is the Beat Generation" for New York Times; germination of New York Poets group-Frank O'Hara, Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler, Barbara Guest.

Broadway: The Seven Year Itch
Films: High Noon, Viva Zapata!, Come Back, Little Sheba;first Cinemascope and Cinerama films
Television: "The Jackie Gleason Show," "Ernie Kovacs Show"
Music: Louis Armstrong tours Europe with his All Stars
Fiction: Pulitzer to Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, Steinbeck's East of Eden
Poetry: Pulitzer to Archibald MacLeish's Collected Poems 1917-1952; Dylan Thomas doing U.S. reading tour - NYC, San Francisco, etc.


  • Death of Stalin; Health, Education, and Welfare Department is created; Rosenbergs are executed as spies; Charlie Chaplin leaves U.S. complaining of persecution by "vicious propaganda"; Screen Actors Guild adopts by-law banning Communists.
  • Gary Snyder working at Sourdough Mountain meets Kenneth Rexroth, then enters Berkeley as a graduate student; City Lights Bookstore founded by Ferlinghetti and Peter Martin, begins publishing City Lights Magazine;Burroughs' novel Junkie is published by Ace Books; Kerouac writes Maggie Cassidy and The Subterraneans in NYC where he reunites with Burroughs and Ginsberg who are editing their correspondence as The Yage Letters.

Broadway: The Crucible, Picnic, Camino Real
Films: From Here to Eternity, The Big Heat
Music: Vocalists-Ella Fitzgerald, Nat "King" Cole, Four Freshmen
Fiction: James Baldwin's Go Tell It on the Mountain, Saul Bellows' The Adventures of Augie March
Poetry: Pulitzer to Theodore Roethke for The Waking; books by Richard Eberhart, May Sarton


  • Joseph McCarthy probe of the Army for Communists begins, finally results in disputes, Edward R. Morrow's expose of McCarthy on"See It Now," and Senate condemnation of McCarthy methods; Supreme Court rules racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional
  • Allen Ginsberg arrives in San Francisco, working in market research, meets Peter Orlovsky; North Beach bohemian scene at cafe's, bars, jazz clubs- - includes writers Jack Spicer, Richard Brautigan, Bob Kaufman, John Weiners, Bay Area Poets Coalition; Weldon Kees and Dick Martin organize first SF Poets Follies; Black Mountain College fosters projective verse through poets Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov, Paul Blackburn, et al.

Broadway: The Bad Seed, Witness for the Prosecution
Films: On the Waterfront, The Caine Mutiny, The Wild One
Fiction: Golding's Lord of the Flies
Television: Army-McCarthy hearings, "Davey Crockett" episodes on "Disneyland" program; "I Love Lucy"
Radio: Popular disc jockey Alan Freed coins term for new music as "rock 'n' roll"


  • Ginsberg organizes Six Gallery Reading in San Francisco garage- gallery, featuring: Rexroth as MC, poets: Philip Lamantia, Michael McClure, Philip Whalen, Gary Snyder and Ginsberg's own reading of Howl, Kerouac cheering them on (Oct. 13); McClure completes studies at San Francisco State College; Ferlinghetti launches City Lights Books with Pocket Poets Series: #1, his own Pictures of a Gone World, #2 Rexroth's 30 Spanish Poems, Patchen's Poems of Humor and Protest; Kerouac writes Mexico City Blues, befriends Gary Snyder at Berkeley, who is translating Chinese poetry of Zen poet Han- Shan; he and Kerouac go mountain climbing, discuss Buddhism; Kerouac returns briefly to North Carolina, writes "Jazz of the Beat Generation" for New World Writing; Corso's The Vestal Lady on Brattle is published with support of friends at Harvard.
  • Nikita Krushchev becomes Soviet Party Secretary; Congress authorizes U.S. president to use force to defend Formosa; Richard J. Daley elected mayor of Chicago; Martin Luther King Jr. leads Civil Rights Movement; rebel actor James Dean (24) dies in auto crash

Broadway: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Bus Stop, The Diary of Anne Frank, A View from the Bridge
Films: Rebel without a Cause, The Blackboard Jungle, Marty, The Rose Tattoo
Televison: first presidential press conference is broadcast; "64,000 Question"
Art: "Pop Art" of Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, et al-Morris Graves, Jasper Johns, Larry Rivers
Fiction: McCarthy's A Charmed Life, Mailer's The Deer Park
Poetry: Pulitzer to Elizabeth Bishop's Poems: North and South- - A Cold Spring


  • 11 Blacks are arrested during Montgomery Bus Boycott; Krushchev threatens that Russia will produce ICBM missile; anti-soviet demonstrations in Poland and Hungary are met with troops in Hungary; Egypt and Israel clash over Gaza Strip; Steel Strike lasts 33 days; accidental sinking of "Andrea Dorea" ship; Salk vaccine for polio menengitis is distributed; Eisenhower wins landslide election, Richard Nixon as V.P.; marriage of Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller, Grace Kelley and Prince Ranier of Monaco
  • Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems City Lights' Pocket Poets Series #4; Kerouac living with Snyder in Marin County cabin, spends summer as lokout on Desolation Peak, Washington; Snyder leaves for Japan; Kerouac leaves for Mexico City, joined by Ginsberg, Corso, and Orlovsky; Kerouac is writing Visions of Gerard, Desolation Angels, and The Dharma Bums;
  • Ginsberg returns to New York City, visits William Carlos Williams; his mother dies; Michael McClure and James Harmon edit Ark II-Moby I which blends work of Beats and Black Mountain poets with Buddhist thought; San Francisco Poetry Center directed by Ruth Dewitt features readings by Robert Duncan, Kenneth Rexroth, et al.

Broadway: Beckett's Waiting for Godot with Bert Lahr and E.G. Marshall; Chayefsky's Middle of the Night
Films: Giant, Lust for Life, The Ten Commandments, Baby Doll, The Seventh Seal
Television: Elvis Presley's appearance on Ed Sullivan Show starts protest; daytime soap operas; late night Steve Allen Show; "Playhouse 90" produces "Requiem for a Heavy-weight"; "Alfred Hitchcock Presents"
Music: Harry Belafonte prompts interest in Calypso music; Rockabilly and Rhythm and Blues merge in Rock 'n' Roll;
Art: Georgia O'Keefe and Helen Frankenthaler shows
Fiction: Bellow's Seize the Day, Algren's A Walk on the Wild Side, Baldwin's Giovanni's Room
Poetry: Pulitzer Richard Wilbur's Things of This World; books by John Berryman, Marianne Moore, Donald Hall


  • U.S. Customs seizes Howl in San Francisco; Ferlinghetti and Shig Murao stand trial; Ginsberg is in Europe at the time; Kerouac's On the Road is published by Viking through help of Malcolm Cowley-receives strong NYTimes review, becomes a best seller; Kerouac visits Burroughs in Tangier, helps with Naked Lunch manuscript; Kerouac and mother travel to San Francisco, tries to settle there, meets Philip Whalen and Neal Cassady; love affair in New York with Joyce Glassman (Johnson); Norman Mailer writes "The White Negro" essay on hipsters and Beats; Frank O'Hara's Meditations in an Emergency poems published by Grove; Poetry-and-Jazz scene begins in San Francisco with Rexroth and Ferlinghetti performing at The Cellar, Kenneth Patchen and Chamber Jazz Sextet at The Blackhawk; Evergreen Review editors Barney Rossett and Donald Allen do special focus on Beats in "San Francisco Poets" Vol. 2
  • Eisenhower Doctrine is adopted to help Mid-East countries; Ike proposes two year test ban of nuclear weapons; Russia launches "Sputnik," first space satelite; Teamster president Dave Beck is ousted for corruption, Jimmy Hoffa is elected; Billy Graham draws 92,000 to Yankee Stadium

Broadway: The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, Compulsion, Look Back in Anger
Films: The Bridge on the River Kwai, Twelve Angry Men, Peyton Place, A Face in the Crowd
Televison: Mike Wallace Interviews, "Maverick," "American Bandstand," "Gunsmoke"
Music: "Third Stream" combination of Jazz with classical European music as in Modern Jazz Quartet; in reaction Charlie Mingus fosters open and improvisational forms
Art: Picasso exhibit in NY, Chicago, Philadelphia
Fiction: Malamud's The Assistant, Morris's Love among the Cannibals; Durrell's Justine; James Agee's A Death in the Family (Pulitzer)
Poetry: Pulitzer to Robert Penn Warren's Promises; books by James Wright, Denise Levertov, Nellie Sachs


  • Lenny Bruce is performing at S.F. Hungry I, along with Beat comics Lord Buckley, Lou Gottlieb; Burroughs moves to Paris, London, Tangier (1958-1966); Cassady serves two year jail term in San Quentin for possession and sale of marijuana; Kerouac moves to Long Island with mother, publishes The Subterraneans and The Dharma Bums, begins work on Lonesome Traveler; Ferlinghetti's A Coney Island of the Mind (New Directions); Corso's broadside "Bomb" and book Gasoline (City Lights); Snyder returns to San Francisco, stays at East-West House with Lew Welch, Joanne Kyger, and others studying Zen; Snyder's "Cold Mountain Poems" of Han-Shan published in Evergreen Review; LeRoi and Hettie Jones begin to publish Yugen and Totem Press; Alan Watts's essay "Beat Zen, Square Zen, and Zen" appears in Chicago Review.
  • Strategic Air Command is formed; U.S. and USSR begin cultural exchanges; V.P. Nixon is stoned in Caracas while on Goodwill tour; Russian Sputnik III orbits Earth, brings on U.S. study of "Crisis in Education" in U.S.; conflicts in Beruit, Algeria, Hungary, China; Fidel Castro rebels seize capital in Cuba; John Kenneth Galbraith's The Affluent Society portrays materialism and conformity of U.S., argues for fair distribution of wealth to end poverty. Beat Generation art and lifestyle has cultural impact.

Broadway: MacLeish's J.B., O'Neil's A Touch of the Poet
Films: The Defiant Ones, Some Came Running, The Young Lions
Televison: "Naked City," "Peter Gunn," "The Rifleman"; David Susskind's "Open End"
Music: Kingston Trio help launch new Folk Music; first Monterey Jazz Festival; Duke Elington plays Carnegie Hall;
Fiction: Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's, Barth's The End of the Road
Poetry: Pulitzer to Stanley Kunitz' Selected Poems, 1928-1958;books by Muriel Rukeyser, William Meredith, W.C. Williams' Patterson, Book V


  • Beatitude magazine edited by Bob Kaufmann, Ferlinghetti, et al; Rexroth turns on Beats, attacks them as pretenders; after Chicago Review is censored,Big Tablepublishes Burroughs' "Ten Episodes from Naked Lunch"; then book Naked Lunch is published by Olympia Press of Paris; Gary Snyder and Joanne Kyger marry in Japan in order to live together in Zen monastery; his Riprap is published by Origin Press; Philip Whalen publishes Self-Portrait from Another Direction (Auerhahn Press); Beat film Pull My Daisy is produced and directed by Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie, with Kerouac's narration and Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, and Corso; New Cinema follows Beat parallels of spontaneity and realism, example John Cassavetes' Shadows; Lew Welch meets Kerouac in S.F. and drives him to New York; Kerouac's Dr. Sax, Maggie Cassady and Mexico City Blues are published; Ginsberg records his Howl for Fantasy Records and is writing Kaddish. Articles on "The Beats" begin to appear in Time, Life, and in Lawrence Lipton's critical The Holy Barbarians; Michael McClure's Hymns to St. Geryon (Auerhahn); McClure directs production of his play The Feast! using beastial language and performed by Bay area poets and artists; Philip Lamantia's Ekstasis & Narcotica (Auerhahn); David Meltzer's Ragas; he and wife Christina are performing with folk music in S.F.; Ferlinghetti's "Tentative Descripion of a Dinner to Promote the Impeachment of President Eisenhower" read at Berkeley and receives cool response from some Beats as too politically involved-Ferlinghetti responds with quotes from Sartre on the need for engagement, concludes "Only the dead are disengaged."
  • Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg travel to Chile for South American Conference of Leftist writing; Ferlinghetti's surrealist novel Her (New Directions)
  • Castro takes Havanna, Batista flees; Pope John calls for Ecumenical Council; Khrushchev threatens U.S. with military superiority; Ike's call for on-site missile inspection is rejected; Laos asks for U.S. aid against North Vietnam; Ike and Khrushchev meet at Camp David.

Broadway: Loraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun; Gibson's The Miracle Worker, Paddy Chayefsky's The Tenth Man
Films: Room at the Top, Suddenly, Last Summer, On the Beach
Television: Top Quiz Shows exposed as pretense; "The Many Loves of Dobey Gillis" includes Beatnik Maynard G. Krebs; "The Twilight Zone," "The Late Show"
Music: Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come, Miles Davis and John Coltrane create "free jazz"; Rock 'n' Roll receives wide acceptance despite some protests of its moral corruption
Fiction: Roth's Goodbye Columbus and Five Short Stories,Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s The Sirens of Titan, Leon Uris' Exodus; Allen Drury's Advise and Consent wins Pulitzer
Poetry: Pulitzer to William Snodgrass' Heart's Needle; books by Robert Duncan, James Wright, Robert Lowell


  • Blacks sit-in at Greensboro, North Carolina lunch counter; Russians and Fidel Castro sign economic agreement; U-2 reconnaissance jet is shot down by Russia; anti-U.S. demonstrations in Japan; Kennedy wins narrow election victory as president; Democrats sweep Congress.
  • Donald Allen publishes New American Poets anthology featuring many of the Beats; Burroughs begins using cut-up techniques in Minutes to Go and Exterminator; Kerouac tries futiley to write at Ferlinghetti's cabin in Bixby Canyon at Big Sur, makes friendships with Lew Welch and Leonore Kandel, Philip Whalen, and Ferlinghetti; Ginsberg in South America, at Harvard takes LSD with Timothy Leary, Proliferation of Beat writings: Snyder's Riprap and Myths and Tests (Totem/Corinth); Corso's The Happy Birthday of Death (New Directions); Whalen's Like I Say; (Totem/Corinth); Jack Spicer's After Lorca Poems; Philip Lamantia's Exstasis & Narcotica; writings about the Beats: Rexroth's Bird in the Hand: Essays; Elias Wilentz's The Beat Scene (Corinth); Thomas Parkinson prepares A Casebook on the Beat (Crowell); Seymour Krim's The Beats (Fawcett).

Broadway: Lillian Hellman's Toys in the Attic; Jean Anouilh's Becket; An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May
Films: The Apartment, Psycho, Never on a Sunday, Spartacus
Television: Route 66, The Flintstones, Face the Nation, The Bob Newhart Show
Music: Dave Brubeck's Time Out, John Coltrane's Meditations
Fiction: William Styron's Set this House on Fire, John Updike's Rabbit, Run, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird
Poetry: books by James Dickey, Kenneth Koch, W.S. Merwin, Anne Sexton, Charles Olson, Denise Levertov