The Beat Generation of the 50’s was the forefather of the counterculture movement in the 60’s.

The 1950’s is known for many lasting influences in technology, music, movies, food and popular culture.  It was a decade of affluence and innovation.  In the late 1950’s there was the beginning of a shift in culture, inspired by the Beat Generation.  This was a group of post-World War II writers that included Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs.  The Beat Generation is known for its rejection of materialism and the standards of the day, experimentation with drugs, and spiritual and sexual liberation.  It evolved in the 1960’s to become part of the hippie and larger counterculture movements.  Two of the important novels by Beat Generation authors ended up in the center of literary and legal battles over obscenity which ultimately resulted in helping to bring down literary censorship.

Jack Kerouac introduced the phrase Beat Generation in 1948 to describe the anti-conformist youth movement in New York.  Several of the central figures of the Beats met while studying at Columbia University.  In the late 1950’s Beat writers and artists began moving to Greenwich Village because the rents were low.  Here many like-minded people created art, music and literature and collaborated together, including Jackson Pollock.  The city of San Francisco was also an important location for the Beat Generation, as many writers spent time there together.

The term “beatnik” was coined by Herb Caen, a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, on April 2, 1958.  The word is a combination of Sputnik and Beat generation, and is meant to imply that beatniks are “far out of the mainstream of society.”  The word became associated with a particular stereotype of a man with goatee and beret, playing the bongos and reciting poetry.

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