Cover image for American scream : Allen Ginsberg's Howl and the making of the Beat Generation
American scream : Allen Ginsberg's Howl and the making of the Beat Generation
Raskin, Jonah, 1942-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Berkeley : University of California Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
xxv, 295 pages ; 22 cm
Poetickall Bomshell -- Family Business -- Trilling-esque Sense of "Civilization" -- Juvinescent Savagery -- Just like Russia -- Ladies, We Are Going through Hell -- Another Coast's Apple for the Eye -- Mythological References -- Famous Authorhood -- This Fiction Named Allen Ginsberg -- Best Minds.
Reading Level:
1220 Lexile.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3513.I74 H636 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PS3513.I74 H636 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Written as a cultural weapon and a call to arms, Howl touched a raw nerve in Cold War America and has been controversial from the day it was first read aloud nearly fifty years ago. This first full critical and historical study of Howl brilliantly elucidates the nexus of politics and literature in which it was written and gives striking new portraits of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William Burroughs. Drawing from newly released psychiatric reports on Ginsberg, from interviews with his psychiatrist, Dr. Philip Hicks, and from the poet's journals, American Scream shows how Howl brought Ginsberg and the world out of the closet of a repressive society. It also gives the first full accounting of the literary figures--Eliot, Rimbaud, and Whitman--who influenced Howl, definitively placing it in the tradition of twentieth-century American poetry for the first time.

As he follows the genesis and the evolution of Howl, Jonah Raskin constructs a vivid picture of a poet and an era. He illuminates the development of Beat poetry in New York and San Francisco in the 1950s--focusing on historic occasions such as the first reading of Howl at Six Gallery in San Francisco in 1955 and the obscenity trial over the poem's publication. He looks closely at Ginsberg's life, including his relationships with his parents, friends, and mentors, while he was writing the poem and uses this material to illuminate the themes of madness, nakedness, and secrecy that pervade Howl.

A captivating look at the cultural climate of the Cold War and at a great American poet, American Scream finally tells the full story of Howl --a rousing manifesto for a generation and a classic of twentieth-century literature.

Author Notes

Jonah Raskin is Professor and Chair of Communication Studies at Sonoma State University

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Ginsberg's best-known work, Howl, has been reviled, revered, and revisited over time in an attempt to gain yet another new insight about the poem and poet. You would think another study couldn't serve much purpose, yet Raskin thoughtfully investigates cold-war culture, beatnik behavior, and the confluence of characters, ideas, and personal history that made Howl possible. Raskin rakes through the dirt of Ginsberg's life like a careful archaeologist on a mission to reveal not the why of Howl but the how. He intelligently considers many aspects of Ginsberg, especially his sense of being a perpetual outsider because of hisewishness, his mad mother, and his homosexuality. Raskin's acknowledgment of influences contributing to Ginsberg's poetic voice--from Whitman to Eliot to Yeats--shows how Ginsberg's poetry, for all its originality, was not without some basis in an established poetic tradition. American Scream is an engaging book that successfully conveys how conditions were ripe for Howl to come to fruition. --Janet St. John Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

When shy, soft-spoken 29-year-old Allen Ginsberg appeared before an audience at San Francisco's Six Gallery on the evening of October 7, 1955, he was virtually unknown, but the unpublished poem he (with mounting fervor) read would propel him to fame with the suddenness and inevitability of Byron. By the time of Ginsberg's death in 1997, "Howl" had sold 800,00 copies, and the incendiary, visionary poem is now the subject of Sonoma State professor Raskin's thorough, accessible history. The strength of Raskin's book is the balance it strikes between the personal drama of the poem's composition and reception and the unfolding background of its historical circumstance. For instance, Raskin sketches the larger generational tensions "Howl" records against the young Ginsberg's personal struggles both with the poetic conservatism of his father Louis and the narrow liberalism of his Columbia professor Lionel Trilling. Unlike such misfits as Kerouac and Burroughs, Ginsberg's artistic radicalization was slow, deliberate and marked with false starts and hesitations, a series of titanic struggles toward form (tempered by worldly ambition) that Raskin records with careful attention. Another feature of Raskin's book-which judiciously uses newly released journals, letters and psychiatric reports-is his refusal to either worship or pathologize Ginsberg. He reminds us that "Howl"'s singular achievements-and nearly universal appeal-are fundamentally human. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Library Journal Review

Raskin (For the Hell of It: The Life and Times of Abbie Hoffman) here studies Howl as it nears its 50th anniversary in 2006. He sees the poem as a response to the Cold War, a spontaneous work that ushered both Ginsberg and the world out of the closet of a repressive 1950s society. Using unpublished sources from Stanford University, Raskin documents Ginsberg's debt to T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden-early influences not generally acknowledged by other critics. He also explores the poet's treatment of madness, drawing on Ginsberg's psychiatric records and an interview with Dr. Philip Hickes, the young therapist who gave Ginsberg permission to embrace his homosexuality and pursue his vocation as a poet. Finally, Raskin discusses Howl's stormy reception, its rise to classic status, and the fame it conferred on Ginsberg and the Beat movement. An excellent study of the poem in the context of its time and culture; highly recommended.-William Gargan, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., CUNY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Preface: Allen Ginsberg's Geniusp. xi
1 Poetickall Bomshellp. 1
2 Family Businessp. 25
3 Trilling-esque Sense of "Civilization"p. 44
4 Juvenescent Savageryp. 65
5 Just like Russiap. 81
6 Ladies, We Are Going through Hellp. 104
7 Another Coast's Apple for the Eyep. 121
8 Mythological Referencesp. 143
9 Famous Authorhoodp. 158
10 This Fiction Named Allen Ginsbergp. 189
11 Best Mindsp. 209
Notes and Sourcesp. 231
Indexp. 263