- Craig Graziano
American counterculture hit the mainstream in the 1960s, but it had already been stewing for over a decade with the Beat generation. This group of novelists, poets, and playwrights pushed against the norms of Eisenhower's post-war optimism to reveal a different side to the nation.
Jack Kerouac brought a sense of adventure and emotional restlessness in his classic novel On the Road, while Allen Ginsburg's poetry pushed language to new heights while also raising questions about profanity and censorship.
Writers tapped into uncharted territory, and the American counterculture soon thrived. Folk and rock music took cues from their Beat brethren, and the Vietnam War and Civil Rights Movement fueled the fire, with television providing a nightly look into our tumultuous world. Mind-altering substances gained popularity and infamy. Writers such as Ken Kesey and Kurt Vonnegut drew from their personal experiences to step back and offer social commentary with their novels. Their works feature memorable characters who may be dealing with mental illness or may have simply become unstuck in time.
This selected list of works highlight important contributions to both the American Beat and Counterculture movements, but there are many more out there to find and explore. Take a cue from Jack:
"...the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!” - On the Road by Jack Kerouac