Skip to main content

Writing Beat and Other Occasions of Literary Mayhem

Author(s): John Tytell

The story and history of the Beats couldn't be found in the traditional libraries or archives of academic research. For preeminent historian of Beat culture John Tytell, it had to be found in the bars, towns, roads, and hangouts of these writers and figures. And as Writing Beat demonstrates, the same techniques apply to new and future writers.

Approaching the history of postwar twentieth-century American literature, and in particular the Beat literary movement of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, and others, Tytell finds himself uniquely positioned as an eyewitness to many of these stories. In this book, he shares his insight with the reader. As he interviewed, drank, traveled, and survived countless moments with some of these literary legends, Tytell discovered much about the craft of nonfiction and biography, and the nature of history. Writing Beat demonstrates, through Tytell's growth as a professor and historian of the Beats, lessons learned and hazards encountered for those aspiring to become writers themselves.

As we approach the sixtieth anniversary of Allen Ginsberg's Howl, Writing Beat reminds us writers do not spring to life fully formed, and the struggle to get to literature can be a blast.

Biography of Author(s)

John Tytell is author of Naked Angels: The Lives and Literature of the Beat Generation, Reading New York, and Ezra Pound: The Solitary Volcano. He has taught modern American literature at Queens College since 1963.


  • "It's a rare book that can appeal to both novice and master, and this book does it. The curious young readers, just reading On the Road or Howl for the first time, will find the book eminently accessible. Those voracious collectors of Beat works will want to add this to their shelves."
    --William McKeen, author of Outlaw Journalist: The Life and Times of Hunter S. Thompson
  • "If you've ever read a book that changed your life, you'll identify with Tytell's love affair with reading."
    --Chuck Leddy, contributing editor for The Writer magazine, praise for Reading New York
  • "Tytell elevates succinctly written literary history into another dimension. […] Although this book may be classified as a hybrid memoir, my experience sifting through the pages transported me back to college, back to after class where I would be so inspired by a particular lecture that I would bother the professor to discuss it afterwards. Writing Beat offers a level of intimacy and time with a writer and teacher that rivals most pedagogy and does not require a payment of tuition or a classroom."
    --Chicago Literati
  • "For over two decades I have been reading John Tytell's books and articles, and it was wonderful to finally learn something about this tremendous scholar's academic and personal journey. It was his book Naked Angels that was partially responsible for me becoming a Beat Generation scholar. Writing Beat opened a private door into John's passionate soul, and it was an absolute pleasure to discover the man behind the scholar."
    --Kurt Hemmer, author of Encyclopedia of Beat Literature