This seminar on the Beat Generation is one of my favorite courses, and I've taught variations on the theme ten or eleven times over the past seven years (including sections in both semesters last year). To keep things fresh I always try to switch up the reading list a little, and this time around we're keeping a relatively narrow focus on the Beat Generation's original New York quartet — Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Gregory Corso — plus the Beat-affiliated poet LeRoi Jones (later Amiri Baraka) with more generous selections from each author. We'll also be greatly expanding the typical end-of-the-term focus on women within the Beat Generation, with both Joyce Johnson's memoir, Minor Characters and Hettie Jones' How I Became Hettie Jones. While gender will be a key focus, race is also central to the way in which I've framed the readings, with Jones' first-person perspective and the interracial love affairs at the heart of both The Subterraneans and Hettie Jones' memoir added to the sometimes-progressive, sometimes-problematic attitudes towards race relations we find in Beat literature.
Altogether we'll read eight books for this class, as listed below. Please note that cheap used copies of many of these titles are plentiful on sites like Amazon, eBay and Powell's, and if you plan ahead you can stay true to Kerouac's dictum, "everything belongs to me because I am poor," and save a few bucks. Don't worry about getting the specific editions whose ISBNs are listed below, either (particularly the Kerouac books and Johnson) — the covers might be more or less fancy, the paper might be yellowed, but the content will be the same.
- Jack Kerouac, On the Road (ISBN: 9780140283297)
- Jack Kerouac, The Subterraneans (ISBN: 9780802131867)
- William S. Burroughs, Word Virus: the William S. Burroughs Reader (ISBN: 9780802136947)
- Allen Ginsberg, Collected Poems 1947-1997 (ISBN: 0061139750)
- Gregory Corso, Mindfield: New and Selected Poems (ISBN: 1560252014)
- Amiri Baraka, Transbluesency: Selected Poems (ISBN: 1568860145)
- Joyce Johnson, Minor Characters (ISBN: 0140283579)
- Hettie Jones, How I Became Hettie Jones (ISBN: 0802134963)
Finally, imagine my surprise when I tuned in to catch the news on Sunday night and saw some of the books from our class featured in a promo for a special report on channel 12 about beating the high costs of college textbooks: