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Historical Dictionary of the Beat Movement

Paul Varner

The Beat Movement was one of the most radical and innovative literary and arts movements of the 20th century, and the history of the Beat Movement is still being written in the early years of the 21st century. Unlike other kinds of literary and artistic movements, the Beat Movement is self-perpetuating. After the 1950s generation, headlined by Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs, a new generation arose in the 1960s led by writers such as Diane Wakoski, Anne Waldman, and poets from the East Side Scene. In the 1970s and 1980s writers from the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church and contributors to World magazine continued the movement. The 1980s and 1990s Language Movement saw itself as an outgrowth and progression of previous Beat aesthetics. Today poets and writers in San Francisco still gather at City Lights Bookstore and in Boulder at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics and continue the movement. It is now a postmodern movement and probably would be unrecognizable to the earliest Beats. It may even be in the process of finally shedding the name Beat. But the Movement continues.

Historical Dictionary of the Beat Movement covers the movement’s history through a chronology, an introductory essay, and an extensive bibliography. The dictionary section has over 700 cross-referenced entries on significant people, themes, critical issues, and the most significant novels, poems, and volumes of poetry and prose that have formed the Beat canon. This book is an excellent access point for students, researchers, and anyone wanting to know more about the Beat Movement.
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Scarecrow Press
Pages: 394Size: 6 1/4 x 9 1/4
978-0-8108-7189-2 • Hardback • June 2012 • $110.00 • (£75.00)
978-0-8108-7397-1 • eBook • June 2012 • $104.00 • (£70.00)
Paul Varner serves as the Scholar in Residence for the English Department at Abilene Christian University. He has published two previous volumes in this series from Scarecrow Press, Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema (2008) and Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Literature (2010).
Editor’s Foreword Jon Woronoff
The Dictionary
About the Author
A forward, preface, and brief introduction are followed here by Varner’s (English, Abilene Christian Univ.; Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Literature) 304-page dictionary and extensive bibliography that present the Beat Movement as a radical, innovative, self-perpetuating aesthetic that continues today. The author describes his selection of information as suggestive rather than comprehensive; still, major Beat writers, themes, and works are emphasized, with cross-references guiding readers to connections and relationships among them. Entries are generally shorter than encyclopedia articles, although some fill several pages....VERDICT Students and others who are curious about Beat literature will enjoy browsing through this book as a starting point for understanding the era. A useful, compact introduction to Beats and their works.
Library Journal

The Beat movement was one of the most radical literary initiatives of the twentieth century. Varner’s opening essay and a chronology provide the parameters of the time period and explain how the Beat movement evolved. The 700 A–Z entries mostly cover book titles, names of poems, and notable people of the time, and they range from a few sentences to several pages, describing a trend or a person’s life as it had an impact on the Beat movement. Characters from poems and novels (e.g., Jeanne, from Jack Kerouac’s The Town and the City) appear here—especially interesting since some characters correspond to actual persons in an author’s life. Other entries aim to show how the traditional Beat movement was revitalized in the 1990s; how women played a significant role, not just as inspiration but as writers; and how the movement included various religions. There are cross-references from a title to an author and, in some instances, to a section of a poem, with a lengthy exposition of the meaning of the symbolism (e.g., Tyvian businesses). The volume concludes with a bibliography section featuring primary sources, anthologies, various scholarly research, articles, and websites. This comprehensive work would be valuable to researchers and readers and could be used to develop a collection of this genre. The volume is interesting and easy to use, and it is recommended for most public and academic libraries.

Not only scholars of the Beat Movement, but anyone who is curious about a group who so strongly represent a particular time in modern history will find the dictionary interesting as well as factually useful.
American Reference Books Annual

Paul Varner, who serves as the scholar in residence for the English Department at Abilene Christian University in Texas...now offers us a history of the beat movement....These brief A-Z entries are prefaced by a short chronology and...by an extensive 62 page bibliography which many readers may find the most useful part of the book.
Reference Reviews

The Beat Movement is a mystery to many people. Few even define it as a movement. Topics covered in this book are the main people, events, politics, social issues, institutions, and policies of the time period. This is not an in-depth look at the period, but a research tool to discover a movement. The chronology helps those new to the Beat Movement familiarize themselves with the major events of the period. It is an easily navigated book that is perfect research papers and projects.