Beyond Literary Landscapes—The Beat Generation

From my early beginnings as a young introvert, the public library has always been a bit of a refuge.  Years later, not much has changed, albeit with an additional affinity for endless hours spent scouring second-hand bookstores to add to my ever-growing “to-read” pile.

From one bookworm to another, this column will be underscoring and outlining various literary genres, authors, and recent reads and can serve as an introduction for those unfamiliar with these works, as a refresher for long-time aficionados, and maybe as an inspiration for readers to share their own suggested topics.  Do you have a topic that you would like covered in this column?  Feel free to contact me for an interview and a feature in an upcoming column.


Inspired by my previous columns focusing on American Literature, this week’s column continues along this theme, with a focus on a group of writers termed The Beat Generation.

The Beat Generation can be defined as “American social and literary movement originating in the 1950s and centred in the bohemian artist communities of San Francisco’s North Beach, Los Angeles’ Venice West, and New York City’s Greenwich Village.”

As a movement, the Beat Generation began to fade during the 1960s, although their effect can be seen in literary works to this day.

In particular, the Beats “expressed their alienation from conventional … society by adopting a style of dress, manners, and ‘hip’ vocabulary borrowed from jazz musicians.”

Some common themes included “transcending the bourgeois values of America through spiritual liberation, sexual liberation, anti-imperialism, a rejection of academic literary culture, and a demystification of recreational drugs.”

Examples of Beat Generation authors include Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.  Other authors include William S. Burroughs.


Some well-known Beat Generation works include Howl by Allen Ginsberg and On the Road and The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac.


These novels and poems are set throughout the United States.


These works take place during the 20-century.


These works may be of interest to AU students who would like to learn about the origins of this counterculture movement, as well as its major literary themes, such as liberation and rebellion, many of which continue to be seen to this day.  They may also be interesting for students who would like to develop their own experimental writing styles.


AU’s wide range of diverse courses make it easy to study this topic in depth.  Courses related to The Beat Generation are available in a variety of disciplines, including one’s that may fit into your Degree Works.  (Always check with an AU counsellor to see if these particular courses fulfill your personal graduation requirements!)

AU students interested in learning more about this topic may enroll in ENGL 345: American Literature II, a senior-level, three-credit course, which focuses on “works of American literature written from approximately 1900 to 1950.”  (Students should note that certain prerequisites are required for this course, including ENGL 211: Prose Forms and ENGL 212: Poetry and Plays or a first-year ENGL course).  Happy reading!