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March 3, 2017
Allen Ginsberg and friends at a Beatnik pad
Here are some notes and rough draft material I wrote for my Historical Dictionary of the Beat Movement on Seymour Krim and his anthology.
Seymour Krim(1922-1989). “Krim has been on the literary scene too long; could go either rotten or ripe. The beat writers opened him up and he now stands a good chance to speak his piece instead of going through the motions. A nice guy with a touch of nasty.” Thus Seymour Krim writes about himself in his anthology The Beats, first published in 1960. Krim was born on 11 May 1922 and died of apparent suicide on 30 August 1989. He attended the University of North Carolina and was a respected member of the literary and media establishment in the 1950s when he discovered the writers of the Beat Movement and credited them for turning him into a real writer. His short story “The Insanity Bit” appears in The Beats, and he wrote respectable prose journalism and New Journalism for many years before his death.
But as far as the Beat Movement is concerned, his little anthology, The Beats, was his significant achievement. The Beats was published as a mass market paperback original first in 1961 and reissued with a new introduction in 1963. Its cool black and white cover image of a goateed beatnik (an uncredited Allen Ginsberg) in deep conversation in his Beat pad with an aloof beat chick calmly puffing a cigarette established an image of beatnik cool that was to persist among young intellectuals into the 1960s. The headnote blurbs on the new young Beat writers were written in the Beat slang of the day, setting the tone for the entire book.
In later years Seymour Krim was a regular writer for the New Yorker, once called by Tom Dent “the poor man’s Norman Mailer” (1980, 106). He taught writing at a number of universities including the Iowa Writers Workshop.
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March 2, 2017
The Beats, ed Seymour Krim
Unquestionably, the Beatnik scene in the 1950s U.S., and its counterpart in the U.K., the Angry Young Men, brought the Beat Movement to public awareness and provided color and popularity to the movement. I love uncovering original material from the Beatnik era and one of my favorites is a paperback anthology edited by Seymour Krim titled The Beats, published in 1960 with a second edition in 1962 lamenting the end of the Beatnik era.
The back cover of The Beats screams out at the reader the way old ‘50s paperbacks were wont:
The drive, the fury, the frankness they bring to their writing has made the Beat generation the most hotly discussed literary movement of the century. Here is the Beat world, the world that has aroused critics to shocked outrage and loud praise. Here is the jazz, the junk, the jargon—and, above all, the anger. Here is a ruthlessly honest collection of their writing together with some sharp critical assessments of their deliberate and their holy war with Society.
Over the nest several weeks in The Scene I want to devote a number of posts to this amazing time capsule witness of the actual now and present of its colorful time. Krim had a way of describing all the writers and the goings on especially in New York with current Beatnik slang and dramatic this-is-important! urgency. Stay with me here and you won’t regret it.
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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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