Allen Ginsberg, one of the most influential American poets and leading figures of the Beat Generation, was born on this day in 1926. He would’ve been 88 years old.
New Jersey-native Irwin Allen Ginsberg was not only a renowned prolific writer and poet but also an activist, and these traits manifested early on in his life. In his teens, Ginsberg was said to be already aware of the world around him, even supposedly penning letters to The New York Times on issues such as politics and workers’ rights. In high school he became exposed to the poetry of Walt Whitman, and in college he attended Columbia University, where he would meet fellow student Lucien Carr, who in turn would introduce him to Jack Kerouac, William S. Borroughs, and John Clellon Holmes – essentially the core of what would later be known as the Beat Generation.
Although poetry was practically his life, Ginsberg, after taking on odd jobs for some time to support himself, only dabbled in poetry full time in the mid-1950s. Shortly after, he wrote what would be his most celebrated work, the poem “Howl.” At the time of its publication, however, “Howl” was deemed obscene for its numerous references to drugs and sex, both heterosexual and homosexual. An obscenity trial was held in 1957, which ended with Judge Clayton W. Horn ruling the poem as not obscene. Aside from “Howl,” Ginsberg’s most famous works include “Kaddish and Other Poems 1958-1960,” “Reality Sandwiches,” “Planet News 1961-1967,” and “The Fall of America: Poems of these States 1956-1971.”
As an activist, Ginsberg campaigned for free speech and gay rights, took part in protests against the Vietnam War, and campaigned for the plight of the Bangladeshi war victims, to name a few. Aside from writing, Ginsberg dabbled in photography and even worked with some of the most famous musical acts of the time, including The Clash, Sonic Youth, and Bono.
Ginsberg died on April 5, 1997 due to liver cancer in his home in Manhattan’s East Village. He was surrounded by his closest family and friends, including his longtime partner Peter Orlovsky. Even though it’s been years since, Ginsberg remains to inspire new generations of writers through his influential body of work.