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FAMILY BUSINESS by Allen Ginsberg Kirkus Star


Selected Letters Between a Father and Son

by Allen Ginsberg & Louis Ginsberg & edited by Michael Schumacher

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 1-58234-107-9
Publisher: Bloomsbury

A surprisingly poignant selection of letters between Beat Generation poet-guru Allen Ginsberg and his father, Louis, a career English teacher and an accomplished poet himself.

Schumacher (Francis Ford Coppola, 1999, etc.) published a biography of the younger Ginsberg in 1992 (Dharma Lion) and first approached him about this letters project at that time. Schumacher’s thorough, amiable introduction sets the stage for the remarkable father-son performance that follows (Schumacher does not disappear, but like any other good editor he remains unobtrusive, emerging only to offer the occasional clarification). The letters begin in the mid-1940s. Allen matriculated at Columbia Univ. when he was 17 and displayed all the odious symptoms of the adolescent-away-from-home syndrome. Louis did not hesitate to chide his son (“You are developed intellectually; but, emotionally, you lag”), but what overwhelms throughout is the adamantine bond of affection that connected the two. When in 1947, for example, Allen wrote to say he had signed on as a common sailor aboard a ship bound for Dakar, Louis replied with love rather than disappointment: “It’s O.K. Lots of luck to you, Allen.” In 1948, Louis was shocked to discover that his son was gay, but soon embraced his male lovers without prejudice. When Allen’s classic poem “Howl” appeared, Louis was ecstatic about his son’s success, comparing him to Whitman. Throughout his years of celebrity, Allen remained devoted to his father, writing regularly from the far reaches of the globe (he once sent him some clover from Shelley’s grave). Both commented freely on the work of the other—Louis was always troubled by Allen’s “dirty, ugly words”; Allen continually urged his father to be less conventional. In later years they did popular joint readings, while they argued about Cuba, Communism, Vietnam, the Black Panthers, Israelis and Arabs, and Watergate. Louis died in 1976, and when Allen died 21 years later, some of his ashes were buried in his father’s grave.

An eloquent, affecting collection that offers lessons in poetry, in love, and in family.