by James Sederberg
Alan Ginsberg's business card, c. 1966
Allen Ginsberg was born June 3, 1926 in Patterson, New Jersey. His mother was a Russian emigre and his father a school teacher and poet. Ginsberg, in a brief autobiographical sketch, wrote: "High School in Patterson til 17, Columbia College, merchant marine, Texas and Denver, copyboy, Times Square, amigos in jail, dishwashing, book reviews, Mexico City, market research, Satori in Harlem, Yucatan and Chiapas in 1954, West Coast 3 years..."
After City Lights published his epic poem, Howl, in the Fall of 1956, the ensuing obscenity trial made Ginsberg (in the minds of most Americans) into the quintessential Beat Poet. With his black-rimmed glasses and long black beard, Ginsberg became the face of the Beats as well. His wild readings that were immortalized in Jack Kerouac's semi-autobiographical novels firmly established Ginsberg as a living San Francisco legend.
As the late 1950s moved into the mid 1960s, Ginsberg--unlike his protegé Kerouac--transformed with the times. He was on stage at the Human Be-In at Golden Gate Park on February 14, 1967. Along with a psychedelicized crowd of over 10,000 people, Ginsberg, LSD guru Timothy Leary, and other hippy visionaries chanted, danced, sang and tuned-in. According to poet and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg turned to him in the middle of this blissed-out love-fest and asked, "What if we're all wrong?"
Since then Ginsberg continued to be politically active in support of Migrant Labor Organizations and Gay Rights. Although Ginsberg never duplicated the success that he enjoyed with Howl (over 500,000 copies in print), he continued to write, to give readings, and to lecture.
Back of Ginsberg's business card