An Inventory of His Collection at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
Allen Ginsberg, American poet and one of the founders of the Beat movement, was born in 1926, the second son of Louis and Naomi Ginsberg. His father was an English teacher, a poet, and a socialist; his mother was a communist and an active member in the Party; both were children of Russian-Jewish immigrants. Naomi also suffered from paranoid delusions and Ginsberg often stayed home from school to take care of her during her depressions. She entered several institutions for varying lengths of time and eventually had to be permanently committed. The experience of watching the decline of his mother's mental health made Ginsberg very sensitive to and uniquely qualified to deal throughout his life with people of varying mental states.
A good student despite his difficulties at home, Ginsberg entered Columbia in 1943 as a pre-law student, but with a strong interest in poetry. He contributed frequently to various student publications. He was expelled for one year in 1945 after he scrawled obscene phrases in the dust on his dorm window and was subsequently found in bed with Jack Kerouac. The issue of homosexuality was not brought up at his disciplinary hearing with the Dean, rather he was fined for having an unregistered overnight guest and for the obscenities, and expelled for one year in the hope that he might mature enough to continue his education.
Ginsberg promptly moved in with William Burroughs, who became his mentor, exposing him to readings far outside the narrow scope of Columbia's conservative literature department. While living with Burroughs, Ginsberg was also immersed in the New York underground drug, crime, and sex scene and became friends with Lucian Carr, Neal Cassady, and John Holmes, among others, as well as Kerouac who was also studying with Burroughs. Ginsberg returned to Columbia but continued his experimentation with drugs and writing forms. In 1947, Ginsberg dropped out of Columbia and took a merchant ship to Africa and back. Returning to East Harlem, Ginsberg suffered a sort of break-down and experienced a vision which gave him a glimpse of creative realms outside the norms of the material world. He and Kerouac, who had also had a conversion experience that year, turned to Buddhism and other Eastern influences, turning their backs on Western religion and the status quo.
In 1949 Ginsberg moved out of East Harlem and into downtown Manhattan where Herbert Huncke and several of his friends began storing stolen goods. The police raided the apartment and Ginsberg served eight months in the New York Psychiatric Hospital where he met Carl Solomon who offered further challenges to his convictions about poetry. Ginsberg continued to write the collection of poems later published in 1972 as The Gates of Wrath.
Through the 1950s Ginsberg traveled through Mexico and Cuba, and eventually reached California. He began studying Zen and other eastern philosophies and in 1956 he gave his first public poetry reading, performing Howl to a stunned audience. At the age of 29, Allen Ginsberg had produced a work of poetry that would speak to an entire generation.
Ginsberg traveled to Europe and Tangiers in the late fifties with his lover Peter Orlovsky and settled back in New York in 1959. He traveled to Peru in 1960 and in 1961 began a trip which lasted six years and took him through India, Eastern Europe, and parts of Asia including Vietnam. While visiting Gary Snyder in Japan, Ginsberg had another personal revelation, this one showing him that the way to alternative realms was not found by going outside of himself via mind altering drugs, but rather by looking inside himself through the use of meditation. The stories of his travels and of "the Change" were published in Planet News (1968).
From 1970 onward, Ginsberg's fame grew. He traveled around the country participating in peace rallies and sit-ins, and published widely. As his writing began to make money he set up a non-profit organization and donated the money to destitute writers, independent newspapers, and the legal defense of arrested peace protesters. He purchased a farm in upstate New York which he and various friends made relatively self-sufficient. He contributed lyrics to and performed with the punk rock band the Clash, performed with Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Tour, and jammed with John Lennon. He continued to teach, speak, write, and perform into the nineties. He died of liver cancer in 1997.
Correspondence and a theatrical adaptation of Ginsberg's poem Kaddish make up the bulk of the Allen Ginsberg Collection, 1944-1979, supplemented by holograph and typescript works by Ginsberg, journal and notebook entries by Peter Orlovsky, and critical works about Ginsberg by other authors. The collection is organized into four series, arranged alphabetically by author and chronologically where possible: Series I. Works, 1951-1970 (.5 box); Series II. Correspondence, 1944-1979 (.5 box); Series III. Peter Orlovsky's Personal Papers, 1961-1964 (1 box); and Series IV. Third-Party Works and Correspondence, 1954-1968 (1 box). This collection was previously accessible through a card catalog, but has been recataloged as part of a retrospective conversion project.
The Works Series contains several poems by Ginsberg including "The Green Automobile" and "Primrose Hill Guru," as well as a statement to the Senate subcommittee investigating the use of LSD. Additionally, two revised typescripts and galley proofs for Empty Mirror are present. A complete list of Ginsberg's works in this collection is provided in the Index of Works at the end of this guide.
The Correspondence Series is divided into two sections, outgoing and incoming. The outgoing section contains a great many letters from Ginsberg to fellow Beat writer Jack Kerouac and Ginsberg's long-time companion Peter Orlovsky, in addition to other friends and writers. The incoming correspondence includes a few letters from consular officials as well as friends and admirers. Individual correspondents are listed in the Index of Correspondents at the end of this guide.
The Peter Orlovsky Series is composed of various bills, calling cards, notes, drafts and other fragments of Orlovsky's professional efforts. Several pages of journal entries are present in addition to an address book. People writing to Orlovsky include publishers, friends, and family. Due to their fragility, the journal pages are only available to researchers in photocopy form. Individual correspondents are listed in the Index of Correspondents.
The Third-party Works and Correspondents Series contains several critical works about Ginsberg's poetry, a few unidentified poems, and multiple drafts of Jerome Benjamin's efforts to adapts Ginsberg's long poem Kaddish for the theatre. There is a small amount of correspondence between friends of Ginsberg and Orlovsky, generally about one or the other of the two. Individual authors and their works are listed in the Index of Works by other Authors and individual correspondents are listed in the Index of Correspondents at the end of this guide.
Located elsewhere in the Ransom Center are five Vertical Files containing newspaper clippings with biographical information, literary criticism, and published works by Ginsberg in addition to 32 photographs of Ginsberg, his family, and friends located in the Literary Files of the Photography Collection. Also present are 12 cassette tapes of Ginsberg reading his poetry, and Ginsberg material is located on side B of Gerard Malanga reel-to-reel tape #19.
Peter Orlovsky's journal pages are circulated in photocopy form only. Advance appointment required to use audio materials.
Purchases, 1965-1994 (R13149, R12249, R12047, R11945, R8877, R8433, R4485, R2396)
Chelsea S. Dinsmore, 2000
Allen Ginsberg Collection--Folder List
Box and folder numbers are followed by a number in parentheses which indicates the number of items by that person. A single item is indicated where there is no number in parentheses following the box and folder number. Where there is correspondence from Allen Ginsberg, the number in parentheses is followed by the phrase "from Ginsberg." So in the example:
Orlovsky, Marie--1.10, 2.7 (8)
there is 1 letter from Orlovsky in box 1, folder 10, and 8 letters from Orlovsky in box 2, folder 4.