show menu

A compendium of queer people in the 19th and 20th centuries // Drawn and researched by Michele Rosenthal

Allen  Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg 1926to –1997

American poet, counterculture icon, and central figure of the Beat Generation. Born to a Jewish family in New Jersey, he was influenced both by his father, a published poet, and his mother who suffered from mental illness. He would later write the poem “Kaddish” in dedication to her. He left home to study at Columbia University, where he befriended Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and other members of what would become the burgeoning Beat movement. Upon moving to San Francisco in the 1950s, he met his lifelong partner Peter Orlovsky. Ginsberg was already well aware of his homosexuality, but this was when he began to feel most comfortable and accepting of it. That year, he started writing his most famous work, “Howl.” The poem, an ode to disaffected youth, launched Ginsberg to fame when it became the subject of an obscenity trial over its explicit depictions of drug use and sex, both hetero- and homosexual. The publisher was eventually acquitted, with the judge stating that any obligation to use euphemisms went against free speech. As the 60s arrived, Ginsberg involved himself in the hippie movement through protesting the war, demystifying drug use alongside Timothy Leary, and promoting Eastern religion. He continued to write, fight for civil liberties, and fight against conformity up until his death.

Purchase a print