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Allen Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg was born in Newark, New Jersey on June 3, 1926. His father, Louis Ginsberg was a published poet, a high school teacher, and a Jewish Socialist. His mother Naomi was a radical Communist and nudist who went tragically insane in her early adulthood.

His early home life was dominated by his mother's strange episodes. She was extremely paranoid, but trusted young Allen even while she was convinced the rest of the world was plotting against her. A sensitive boy, Allen struggled to understand the things happening around him, and to understand his own emerging homosexuality. His mother's mental condition worsened until she was hospitalized for life and finally lobotomized.

He later attended Columbia University in New York, where he met Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, and non-student friends like William Burroughs. He began consorting with Times Square junkies and thieves (mostly friends of William Burroughs'), experimenting with drugs, and cruising the gay bars in Greenwich Village. He believed that himself and his friends were working towards some kind of great poetic vision, which he and Kerouac called the New Vision. He began an affair with Neal Cassady, visiting him in Denver and San Francisco hoping to help inspire more of Jack Kerouac's On the Road adventures.

He graduated in 1948. While reading William Blake in his Harlem apartment in the same year, he had a vision in which Blake came to him in person. He joyfully told his friends and family that he had found God. He then underwent psychoanalysis, followed by an eight-month stay in a Rockland, N.Y., State Hospital.

After a while, he began to get put off by his friends' illegal activities resulted in his own arrest and imprisonment. Ginsberg entered what would later be called his "straight" phase. He stopped talking to Burroughs and Herbert Huncke, began psychiatric treatment, and even began dating women. He got a job in an office in the Empire State Building as a marketing researcher.

But this phase didn't last long. In the waiting room of a psychiatric hospital, he met Carl Solomon, who he would later dedicate his most famous poem, "Howl," to. He later met William Carlos Williams, who inspired him greatly. He travelled to San Franscisco and became part of the local poetry movement there.

At the age of 29, Ginsberg had written much poetry but published almost none. He spent most of his time promoting the works of Kerouac and Burroughs to publishers, neglecting to promote his own. Even so, he was the first Beat writer to gain popular notice when he read his new poem "Howl" at the Six Gallery poetry reading in October 1955. It was published in 1956. The poem's drug-induced verse, inspired a new style in American poetry.

Critics accused "Howl" of being obscene, but it withstood several legal battles against its publication, including in the U.S. Supreme Court. Howl and Other Poem's publisher was cleared in a landmark decision in 1957.

In the '60s and '70s, Ginsberg became interested in anti-war politics, and began traveling widely in the 1980s. In the summers, he taught at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

Ginsberg published more than 40 books of poetry. His book Fall of America won the National Book Award in 1972, and he was elected to the American Academy and the Institute of Arts and Letters.

Ginsberg has said that "[Poetry] comes from the bottom of the heart, expresses what is known universally and privately and hardly ever acknowledged in public."

Ginsberg spent the last decade of his life writing and teaching at the City University of New York's Brooklyn College. He had chronic hepatitis C for many years. The hepatitis developed into cirrhosis, diagnosed in 1988, and the poet's increasing fatigue and jaundice led to a biopsy shortly before his death, which revealed liver cancer. He was working on a new collection of poems and photographs at the time of his death.

Ginsberg's father, Louis - also a poet - died of liver cancer in 1968. Ginsberg died on April 5, 1997 in his New York City home. He received a Buddhist funeral, but a marker was erected beside his father's grave in B'nai Israel Cemetery in Newark, New Jersey.

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