Lesson No. 3: Women of the Beat Movement

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JU_smWV3bXw]

Welcome back, [userinfo field=”first_name”]{{empty}}[/userinfo]! A lot of people think of the Beat Movement as an all boy’s club but in fact there were and are some wonderful women writing and creating art in this community, too.  This week we’ll learn about some key players, why and how they were largely marginalized and use their work as inspiration for our own.

Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs….these men are some of the main Beat players the media and history usually talks about.  Also, much of the Beat writing by these guys (though great) offers rather flat views of women characters conjuring traditional 1950s American gender norms, rather than subverting.  Several of the women in the Beat movement became more known as wives, friends, and associates of these men than writer of their own accord. 

But the women were there, of course, and I think it’s important to give them their own week of looking at and listening to in this course.  People like Diane DiPrima, Hettie Jones, Carolyn Cassady, Anne Waldman….with writer Diane DiPrima saying female “Beats were around, but it was harder to get away with the bohemian life in that era.”

Looking quickly at 3:

Diane DiPrima- wrote about her personal life and relationships against the backdrop of the political and social upheavals of the 1960s and 70s.  She has lived on both the East and West coasts, bridging both artistic communities as well as the Beats and the Hippies.  Her later writing reflected an increasing interest in Eastern philosophies, female archetypes and alchemy.

Anne Waldman- author of over 40 books, poet, activist, contemporary of Allen Ginsberg, opened the Naropa University Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics with Ginsberg.  She is a student of Tibetan Buddhism, a performance poet, and in addition to being associated with the Beats is a member of the Outrider experimental poetry movement.

Hettie Jones- known often as the first wife of late poet Amiri Baraka, she is also a writer and poet herself, author of over 23 books.  A lot of her work touches on identity, as a Jewish woman who chose an artistic path and was in an interracial marriage at a time when that was more controversial.


How are we shaped by our times?

“In the fifties if you were male you could be a rebel, but if you were female your families had you locked up. There were cases, I knew them, someday someone will write about them.” -Gregory Corso on women Beats

Reading Assignment

sample poems:

Song for Baby-O, Unborn by Diane di Prima

 Makeup on Empty Space by Anne Waldman

good articles/essays on the topic:

Missing Beats

Muses or Maestros?


A lot of Beat poetry, from both the women AND men, is known for joining the personal and the political, the spiritual with the engine of the physical world around us.  Sexuality is looked at fearlessly (Ginsberg’s HOWL was famously censored for the homosexual references, the women of the Beat movement wrote of their sexuality and gender).

In both Buddhist spirituality (which many of the Beats followed) and in art, anger is a great transformer, an energy not “bad” but rather seen as powerful, an alchemist, turning one thing to another.

For this week, I offer 2 different ways to open yourself to a poem:

1) connect with something that, bluntly, pisses you off.  It can be a large political concern, something in the news of late, an epidemic on the street.  Write to it, about it, of it, your individual connection to a larger thing.  If you are stuck, you can try either writing of a more personal issue and then looking at the words on the page to see where you might link those personal thoughts to the bigger picture of the world OR work the opposite way:  write of an issue in the news then look for places to insert yourself after those words are on the page.

2) try what Waldman and Berrigan did here, and pick an upcoming holiday or special day as a prompt.  Again, write to it, of it, around it, by it.



Guidelines, Submissions & Formatting

  • Due Date: Sunday, 6 pm.
  • Submission Link: Submit to the FORUM.
  • Submission Format: Attach an MS Word document in Universal Manuscript Format with the following format (this format is firm and universal). Double-spaced, 12 point font, Times New Roman, 1 in margins, heading with name, address, email, website (if applicable), and phone number on page one. Page two and forward should have in the top right corner your last name and page number. 
  • Word Count: 1000 words or less (this is firm)
  • Forum: Upload your course-created work to your course and month forum so that other students in the course can read your work and give you feedback on your story. MAKE SURE YOU ARE UPLOADING YOUR STORY/POEM TO THE CORRECT FORUM AND COURSE. Group feedback runs on the honor code. Submit only one work by the due date, next Sunday 6 pm. Your feedback given on each story need be no more than a paragraph or two and should include elements that are working and elements that require further work. 
  • Please make sure to contact me directly with any questions regarding assignments and technology. sarah.herrington@gmail.com 


Do you usually write of the personal or the political?  Do these two easily intersect for you, or seem separate?


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