Summary | Bob Dylan | Betty Friedan 
Non-Mainstream Heroes
Lawrence Ferlinghetti | Ken Kesey

Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-)

It could be argued with some degree of certainty that Lawrence Ferlinghetti does not belong in the 1960s. After all, he published Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" in the 50s in his Pocket Poets Series. He also started the City Lights magazine in the 50s, the namesake of what would become quite possibly the most famous American bookstore.

While his home in Big Sur was eventually immortalized in Jack Kerouac's novel of the same name, which was published in 1962, Ferlinghetti's greatest direct achievements to literature have roots in a different era.

But that would be to overlook the indirect impact that he had on the emerging student Left in the San Francisco area. Kerouac was the adventurer. Ginsberg, the lover. Cassidy, the driver. And Ferlinghetti gave a home to all of these people. With his politically active social consciousness and his literary sensibilities, it was grounded people like him who allowed the others around him to soar.

Born in Yonkers, New York, Ferlinghetti was shipped around from relative to relative after his father died one year after he was born. Eventually, he ended up living in an orphanage until his Aunt Emily pulled him out and took him to Bronxville, New York.

In his youth, he began writing poetry, a passion that would lead him to the Columbia University Graduate School after being discharged from the Navy. Once he procured his degree, rather than stumble through the New York writing scene, he packed his bags for the Sorbonne in Paris where he worked on his doctorate in poetry. After completing his degree, he returned to America and headed out west where he and Peter Martin created the underground culture magazine City Lights.

It was through this venture that Ferlinghetti gave voice to a time of discontent and unrest. He was charged with obscenity for distributing Ginsberg's quintessential Beat poem, although he was later found innocent of all counts.

Just as Cassidy came to embody the spirit of the Beat, Ferlinghetti represented the body - the solid matter which stood like a beacon to writers, activists, freaks and hippies.

Ken Kesey  (return to top)

When Ken Kesey, then a creative writing graduate student at Stanford, volunteered to be a test subject in the government sanctioned LSD experiments, a monumental shift in the culture was about to take place. Maybe best known for his landmark novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Next, detailing his experience in a Menlo Park Veteran's Hospital, Kesey went on to embody the non-conformist attitude that the Beat writers had created just a decade before.

Soon after the publication of his novel however, Kesey purchased a home in La Honda, California that would become the embodiment of the Sixties literary, psychedelic movement in the way that Big Sur had become the surrogate home to Beat writers in the Fifties. It was here at La Honda that Kesey began staging his Acid Tests, sometimes without the guests' knowledge, and filming and writing about the events. It was his belief that hallucinogens offered a window into the mind that most people had turned away from. With their Day-Glo paint and ever-beating drums, Kesey hoped to unchain society from what he considered the shackles of conformity.

With the publication of his second novel, Sometimes a Great Notion, Kesey began a radical shift in his life that would increasingly lead him away from the written word and into the world of hallucinogenic performance art. He gathered up a group of willing subjects, dubbed the Merry Pranksters, and pulled out of San Francisco to tour the country with video cameras, Day-Glo and liquid acid as Jack Kerouac confident Neal Cassidy drove the Magic Bus across the country to New York.

While the Beat writers who met Kesey in New York were not impressed with his new art form, Cassady stayed on with him. While Tom Wolfe did not catch up with the Pranksters until near the end of their days as a cohesive group, Hunter S. Thompson managed to bring the Hell's Angels to La Honda to meet Kesey. While the evening was as uneventful as can be expected from this strange group, from a literary standpoint, this was the epicenter of two generations of writers smashed together. The fallout from these two meetings brought about some of the most influential writing of the decade.

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