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Home » Historical Dictionary of the Beat Movement » Publicity Interview with Paul Varner for the Historical Dictionary of The Beat Movement

Publicity Interview with Paul Varner for the Historical Dictionary of The Beat Movement

February 24, 2017

Publicity Interview with Paul Varner for the Historical Dictionary of The Beat Movement


How long ago did you start working on Historical Dictionary of The Beat Movement? How long has it taken you to complete it?
I give myself two years for each of my books, which evidently is standard since both my publishers suggest that time frame. So I finished my last book, on Western fiction, in 2010 and began my book on the Beat Movement immediately. I try to spend the first year in reading and research and the second year in writing. I’ve also recently finished the Historical Dictionary of Romanticism in Literature.

How much work did you do on this book each day or week?
Of course, I had two summers to work full-time on the book, but I also tried to arrange my teaching schedule during the school year so that I had at least two full days a week to research and write.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in writing this book?
Obviously, there is always the challenge as to what and who to include and exclude in a broad critical survey. But probably the biggest challenge was whether I would limit the scope of the Beat Movement to the early generation of the Beats—the writers who came to prominence in the 1950s—or would I expand to writers and works that came after the 1950s. Most surveys of the Beats confine themselves to the 1950s, to the Beat Generation. I decided to treat the Beats as a Movement that began in the 1950s but which continued into the 1960s and still exerts a powerful influence on postmodern literature right up to the present. After all, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Gary Snyder still publish regularly.

Who do you hope will read this book?
My book is part of a series and is intended to serve as a handbook for scholars and students entering into serious academic study of a particular field of literature. My previous two books in the series of Historical Dictionaries have been on Westerns in Cinema and Westerns in Literature. These books survey the scholarship of their fields in general and establish the current scholarship for individual writers and major works. At all turns I push forward and attempt to establish new ways of looking at the literature. So anyone doing serious work in Beat Studies should consult my book. But also anyone interested in the Beats for whatever reason will find much new in my book.

How will this book be used?

My Historical Dictionary of the Beat Movement is a user-friendly handbook ready to be picked up and dipped into for whatever information readers are searching for. It has two lengthy essays surveying the movement and the trends in scholarship, an exhaustive bibliography of primary and secondary works. Then most of the book contains dictionary or encyclopedia type entries on the writers, their individual works, terminology, historical events, geographical places, and all sorts of other information. Major novels and poems get thorough treatments.


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