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Stanford acquires archive of Beat poet Allen Ginsberg

STANFORD -- Stanford University Libraries has acquired the archive of American poet Allen Ginsberg, libraries' officials announced Wednesday, Sept. 7.

Terms of the acquisition from Ginsberg and his literary agents, Wylie, Aitken & Stone Inc., were not revealed. The announcement was made by Director of Collections Anthony Angiletta.

Angiletta said the first shipment of materials was expected to arrive at Stanford during the latter part of September. The archive will be managed by William McPheron, curator of English and American literature, and Margaret Kimball, head of special collections.

The acquisition, Angiletta said, "advances Stanford University Libraries' efforts to develop distinguished collections in support of the study of 20th-century culture."

In literature, he said, the basis of this program rests on the manuscripts of writers associated with the university and its Creative Writing Program, including John Steinbeck, Janet Lewis, Tillie Olsen and Denise Levertov.

Ginsberg's archive "builds out from this foundation, enhancing coverage of the avant-garde scene" he shared with Levertov, Angiletta said. The archive also complements the libraries' recent addition of the papers of Robert Creeley, a classic, experimental poet associated by friendship with the Beat Movement.

A number of faculty members were instrumental in securing the archive, Angiletta noted. They included English Professors Jay Fliegelman, Albert Gelpi, Diane Middlebrook, Marjorie Perloff and Gilbert Sorrentino, and Wanda Corn, director of the Stanford Humanities Center.

"Because of them, and their students, we were able to find out that this valuable addition to the future of literary and cultural studies at Stanford was going to be available," Angiletta said.

A leader of the Beat Movement and a major force in the American avant-garde for four decades, Ginsberg also has been a major presence in American politics and an icon of popular culture.

He first came to national prominence in 1955, when his poem Howl voiced the ideals and anxieties of a generation alienated from mid- century American society. Howl was an instant sensation, Life magazine ran a photo essay on the Beat Movement, and Ginsberg adopted the role of revolutionary poet and conscience to the nation.

Forty years after its publication, Howl is securely inscribed in the canon of modern letters, with a million copies in circulation in 40 different languages, and Ginsberg, author of 60 books, remains the subject of major biographies and scholarly study.

The archive traces Ginsberg's life and career from boyhood to the present, offering rich resources to students of American literature and cultural history of the post-World War II period. Featured are thousands of pages of Ginsberg's literary manuscripts, hundreds of private journals, extensive files of correspondence with other writers and social activists, family documents, Ginsberg's personal library of books and audio tapes, and his business records.

Also included is a large collection of research files Ginsberg compiled about contemporary social issues. Especially strong in rare ephemeral materials, these files offer historians privileged glimpses into counterculture movements since the early 1960s.

"1940s to 1990s counterculture seems to be a continuation of the earlier century's Modernist Movement," Ginsberg said from his New York office. "I archived all I could of this new consciousness and saved every literary piece of paper that's been through my hands as a record of the spiritual war for liberation of form and content in poetry, bearing in mind that 'When the mode of music changes, the walls of the city shake.'

"I wanted to preserve this evidence in case of some future crackdown in cultural censorship," Ginsberg said. "I'm glad that future scholars and youngsters will have the opportunity to keep track of historical memory in the safekeeping of Stanford's libraries."



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