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American Scream

Allen Ginsberg's Howl and the Making of the Beat Generation

Jonah Raskin (Author)


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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.
Preface: Allen Ginsberg’s Genius

1 Poetickall Bomshell
2 Family Business
3 Trilling-esque Sense of "Civilization"
4 Juvinescent Savagery
5 Just like Russia
6 Ladies, We Are Going through Hell
7 Another Coast’s Apple for the Eye
8 Mythological References
9 Famous Authorhood
10 This Fiction Named Allen Ginsberg
11 Best Minds

Notes and Sources
Jonah Raskin is Professor and Chair of Communication Studies at Sonoma State University. Among other books, he is author of For the Hell of It: The Life and Times of Abbie Hoffman (California, 1997) and My Search for B. Traven (1980).
“Most of this material is familiar to readers of the rapidly multiplying number of Ginsberg and Beat books...Raskin makes admirable use of the detail, though, by focusing on how it all coalesced into the poet’s greatest work.”—Frank Reiss Atlanta Journal- Constitution
“Raskin thoughtfully investigates Cold War culture, beatnik behavior, and the confluence of characters, ideas, and personal history that made “Howl” possible. American Scream is an engaging book that successfully conveys how conditions were ripe for “Howl” to come to fruition.”—Janet St. John Booklist
“An excellent study of the poem in the context of its time and culture; highly recommended.”—Library Journal
“Essential reading...Raskin has shaped an enormous amount of research...into a compelling inside look at Ginsberg...It’s also a sorry reminder that the hope that once inspired an entire generation seems now a distant memory.”—R.V.S. Northern California Bohemian
“Presents the kind of determined and insightful examination in to the mind and world of Allen Ginsberg that both Ginsberg and ‘Howl’ deserve.”—Poetry Flash
Editor’s Choice, San Francisco Chronicle “an admirable act of literary restoration...”—San Francisco Chronicle
“American Scream...seeks successfully, refreshingly to restore attention to Ginsberg’s masterwork, a 3,600-word three-part salvo that shook the world of poetry, as well as the world of Postwar America. A masterful synthesis. Raskin unearths a wealth of new material and insight [and] manages to maintain the perfect balance of subjective enthusiasm and appreciation with an objective distance and clarity...Raskin performs an admirable act of literary restoration, crafting a proper appreciation for ‘Howl’ and its placement within the canon of 20th century American literature.—Andrew Roe San Francisco Chronicle
“Reads like a novel...Though Raskin’s tone is partisan, he writes as an evenhanded (and erudite) student of literature, politics, and culture. [Raskin rescues] the Beats from social caricature or obscurity, returning them to political and cultural relevance.”—SF Station
“This book is a pleasure to read....Raskin captures wonderfully Ginsberg’s feverish hunger for poetry and glory...”—Vivian Gornick The Nation
“A pleasure to read.”—Vivian Gornick The Nation
"Jonah Raskin's American Scream adds to the ever-growing fact and fiction of the Allen Ginsberg persona. All Ginsberg addicts will have to have this book for adulation and reassessment."—Lawrence Ferlinghetti

"The view of beat America from the middle distance has grown all too familiar over the years, but Jonah Raskin gives us something fresh: an exciting close-up of its pivotal masterwork. He shows us America at the moment of Howl's genesis, an America in turmoil, with its atom bombs and erotic anxieties and incipient alternatives, and gets at the uneasy relationship between nation and poem."—Rebecca Solnit, author of Secret Exhibition: Six California Artists of the Cold War Era

"Howl remains a genuinely magical poem, not least because its profoundly subversive power has enticed a significant part of several generations into reading it. American Scream does a superb job of setting the story of its creation and reception in a rich historical context. In so doing, Jonah Raskin illuminates much of American art and culture in the second half of the 20th century, and the visionary, contradictory, wonderful soul that was Allen Ginsberg."—Dennis McNally, author of Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation, and America

"Like an Olympic marksman, with steady and unwaivering focus, Raskin has set his sights on what is without doubt the most influential poem of the second half of the twentieth century. When Ginsberg read the poem in public for the first time in 1955 it was clear that he hit the bull's eye, as has Raskin with his brilliant study."—Bill Morgan, author of The Beat Generation in San Francisco

Bay Area Book Reviewers Association Awards finalist, Bay Area Book Reviewers Association

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