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ALLEN GINSBERG (1926-1997)
Famous Gay Poet and Leader of the Beat Movement
Allen Ginsberg grew up in Paterson, New Jersey, discovering the poetry of Walt Whitman in high school. As a student at Columbia University in the 1940s, he began close friendships with other young students who later became leading figures of the Beat movement.
In 1954, he moved to San Francisco. Two years later, at the age of 30, he became the first Beat writer to gain popular notice when he delivered his legendary performance of his new poem "Howl." The reading sparked the San Francisco Renaissance and defined the generation of the '50s. Howl also became one of the most widely read poems of the century, translated into more than twenty-two languages.
Ginsberg's celebrity grew as the Beat concept evolved from an idea into a movement. As a famous American poet, Ginsberg was able to attain audiences with important political figures all over the world. In 1965 Ginsberg performed a reading with several other Beat figures which signalled the beginning of the London underground scene, from which bands like Pink Floyd would emerge. Bob Dylan often cited Ginsberg as one of the few literary figures he could stand. Ginsberg was also one of the key figures at the Chicago Democratic Convention antiwar protests in 1968.
In 1974, his "The Fall of America" received the National Book Award. In the early eighties, Ginsberg joined the punk rock movement, appearing on the Clash's 'Combat Rock' album and performing with them on stage. He also appeared with performers like Paul Simon and Philip Glass.
Although he was attracted to men, and eventually fell in love with thirty-year companion Peter Orlovsky, he was also attracted to older teenaged boys. Nerve magazine's article about Ginsberg's life, "Allen's Boys," described him as "the poet who loved boys." Feminist writer Camille Paglia addressed his controversial views on man-boy relationships in her column in Salon magazine entitled "The Purity of Allen Ginsberg’s Boy-Love."
Several of Ginsberg's poems also describe his attraction to adolescent boys; see for example "Autumn Leaves" (which he recited during a 1996 interview with HotWired magazine ) and "Old Love Story" (published in White Shroud: Poems 1980-1985). In the latter he wrote:
Some think the love of boys is wicked in the world, forlornThe poem proceeds to make references to Greek myths and classical stories of pederastry.
In his later years, Ginsberg became a Distinguished Professor at Brooklyn College and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1993, he was awarded the medal of Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres by the French minister of culture. He died in 1997 in New York City.
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