Berkeley Research Update

I’ve begun the research that will underscore my thesis’s conclusions. Over this past Spring Break, I conducted research in the University of California Berkeley’s Bancroft Library Special Collections. The City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco was a central hub from which Beat poets and other important figures operated. In fact, the pocket version of Howl that is immortalized in American literary history was printed by City Lights (the pocket series is continued to this day).

Most of my research was from the City Lights collection, an assemblage of letters, manuscripts, advertisements and other materials that went through the bookstore. I spent a lot of time on the Lawrence¬†Ferlinghetti, a Beat poet and publisher who worked out of the bookstore in the 1950s and 60s. He was constantly in contact with Ginsberg, and from their correspondences I gained insight into Ginsberg’s world, including the friends whose experiences influenced “Howl.”

For instance, the collection contained some letters pertaining to the arrest of LeRoi Jones (later known as Amiri Baraka) in Newark. Baraka had been pulled over without reason under false pretenses of gun possession, beaten by the police, and taken to the station where, when he asked the police chief why he was taken in, the chief grinned and asked if they’d gotten him good. Ginsberg and some of his colleagues were formulating a statement of support for Jones. These injustices are at the center of “Howl.” They are the inequitable framework of mid-century America that prescribe Ginsberg and his friends to an ostracized existence.

Heading into the summer, as I will be working in Washington D.C., I will begin combing through the archives in the Library of Congress – especially their extensive collection of rare recordings – in search or material relevant to John Coltrane.