More than 700 pages of pure Beat pleasure.
A one-woman Beat industry and an anthologizing demon, Charters (English/Univ. of Connecticut) has edited several collections of Kerouac and other writers of the era (The Portable Beat Reader, not reviewed, etc.). With all her experience, one would expect judicious editorial decisions, clear and accessible introductions to the material, and an expansive breadth of vision—and, once again, she does not disappoint. She lays out a feast of Beat-related belles lettres, criticism, and commentary, dividing her collection into four units: “Writers on the Beat Generation (1948–2000),” “Afterword, Panel with Women Writers of the Beat Generation” (featuring perspectives by Carolyn Cassady, Charters, Joyce Johnston, Hettie Jones, Eileen Kaufman, and Joanna McClure), “Swinging Syllables Beatnik Dictionary,” and “Chronology of Selected Books, Magazines, Films, and Recordings Relating to Beat Generation Authors (1950–2000).” Throw in Charters’s preface, introduction, bibliography, and index, and the resulting chunky collection of Beat voices and commentary does full justice to the writers and their literature. The big boys of Beat make their obligatory appearance, of course, but Charters refrains from weighing the anthology too heavily in their favor by omitting materials she has previously anthologized. If you’ve been hankering to know what William Carlos Williams thought of Ginsberg’s “Howl” or how Mary McCarthy reacted to Burroughs’s Naked Lunch, Charters gives these authors—and many more—in their own trenchant words.
In her preface, Charters aims to celebrate “the diversity of voices involved with this literary movement as it developed in post–World War II America.” Mission accomplished, and admirably so.