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Beat Literature Research Guide

Books

The CUNY Catalog

Subject Searching

The CUNY catalog allows several kinds of searching; the most important for our purposes are subject searches. Subject searches allow you to search for books on a particular topic, but it's important to use the correct words. All the books are labeled with particular subjects which you can see in their catalog descriptions.

Authors are usually subjects in the catalog. When you search for authors, remember, you are using a subject search to find books about the author, NOT an author search, which would find books by the author. So, you can do searches like this:

  • Burroughs, William S., 1914–
  • Kerouac, Jack, 1922–1969
  • Ginsberg, Allen, 1926–1997

Remember to put the last name first!

You will also see headings that refer to particular types of works pertaining to these authors, such as Correspondence, Criticism and Interpretation, Interviews and so on.

There are other subject headings you may also find of interest, such as:

  • Beat generation
  • Bohemianism--United States
  • Buddhism--United States
  • Counterculture--United States--History--20th century
  • Greenwich Village (New York, N.Y.)--Intellectual life--20th century
  • Whitman, Walt, 1819-1892--Influence

Remember to browse, as some of these are further broken down into more specific subjects. For instance, in addition to Beat generation, you may also see Beat generation--Biography and Beat generation in literature.

Although all of these are real subject headings and you should feel free to use them, this is just a list of examples to help you get started and give you some idea what kinds of searches are possible.

Reference Works

Although the library does not hold many reference works dedicated specifically to the Beat generation, there are many subject-specific encyclopedias including information about the Beats themselves and their historical, social and literary contexts. Some of these are available in print, while others are electronic. They include:

American Writers Reference PS 129 .A55
Introductory biographical essays on significant American authors
Beats: A Documentary Volume (Volume 237 of the Dictionary of Literary Biography) Reference New Book Area
Includes a Beat chronology, overviews of both the New York and Western Beat movements, and biographies of some of the major authors of the movement. Includes excellent illustrations and reproductions of some documents.
Encyclopedia of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered History in America
An encyclopedia on LGBT history in the United States, including entries on the Beats which will help you to put them in context.
Encyclopedia of Transcendentalism Reference PS 217 .T7 E53 1996
For those who are interested in the influence of transcendentalism on the Beats, this encyclopedia provides overviews of many aspects and ideas of the transcendental movement.
Historical Dictionary of the 1950s
Addresses the Beats in their historical context, but also provides information on many other aspects of this particular historical period.
Literary New York Reference PS 144 .N4 E3
Covers the literary life of New York by geographical area. The Beats are covered in the section on Greenwich Village.
Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature Reference PS 21 .O94 2004
Good overviews and bibliographies for American authors, including the Beats.

Browsing

You can use these call numbers to find books about the Beat authors which are grouped near each other in the library. Because the Beat movement consisted of a group of American authors, most books on them are in the PS ranges. Of particular interest are the following call ranges:

  • PS 228 .B6 Beat Generation
  • PS 536 Collections of American literature, 1950s
  • PS 3500 - 3549 American Authors, 1900–1960

Since books on the same author or topic are grouped together on the shelf, it is often a good idea to visit a particular call range and see what we have on the shelves.

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Databases

Reference

Gale Virtual Reference Library
This is a collection of online encyclopedias which you can search all at once. Its strength is in helping to establish a background, from which you can more easily search for additional information elsewhere. For instance, you could search for Beats and Buddhism to learn more about the influence of Eastern religion on the Beat generation, and perhaps learn some names or vocabulary (for instance: Snyder, or Zen) which you could use in other searches. Also, be sure to check the bibliographies for additional works.
Dictionary of Literary Biography
Biography is a useful tool when studying the Beat generation. The DLB is a digitized book series which provides short, critical biographies of important literary figures. It also includes an entire volume on the Beats, which you will certainly find if you search. For other biographies, try searching the catalog for books, or our other biographical databases, Biography Reference Center or Biography Reference Bank, which also includes critical articles.

Criticism

MLA International Bibliography
MLA is the most important database on languages and literature and should always be your first stop. Here, you can search for articles on a particular author or work by using the Person--About or Name of Work search. You can also use the Subject search to search for information on the Beat generation more generally. Any of these searches can be combined with keywords. Please note that to access the full text of any of these articles, you will need to click through Find It.
Humanities Source
Humanities Source covers not only literature, but all the humanities. This makes it a good place to search for materials you may not always find in MLA, including materials from other disciplines. It also includes full text in addition to indexing.
JSTOR and Project Muse
Both JSTOR and Project Muse are full-text, multidisciplinary databases which do not include any indexing. This means that you have to be careful that you match your search with the words used in the articles you are searching, and that you must carefully vet the articles you find in order to winnow out those which merely mention your topic of interest without discussing them in any detail. However, because this is a different kind of search, it sometimes turns up other materials, especially if you are searching for a particular phrase. Note that JSTOR does not include much material from the last three years.
Literature Criticism Online
This is a digitized book series which collects the most significant criticism on particular authors, works or periods. This can be a good way of finding some useful criticism quickly, and of identifying the most important conversations taking place around a work. One caution: check the dates as the articles included are often older.
Twayne's Authors Online
This is an odd resource, as it includes both biographies and critical work. However, it includes some high-quality material on authors which can be searched in a manner similar to Gale Virtual Reference Library (listed above).

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Web Resources

Allen Ginsberg Project
Primary documents, photographs, sound and video recordings as well as a blog and a bio
American Museum of Beat Art
Biographies, bibliographies and other materials on literary and visual artists of the Beat generation
Dharma Beat
A website dedicated to Jack Kerouac including information, links, news, reviews and more
Jack Kerouac: American Novelist and Poet
Multimedia materials pertaining to Kerouac's life and works. Includes drafts, journals, correspondence and other materials of interest
Literature and Culture of the American 1950s
A collections of links to documents that were significant in the 1950s. Highlights include an excerpt from an article on Ginsberg's FBI file, an anticommunist tract, a communist critic's thoughts on Whitman, and Congressional discussions on gay people in government.

This is only a very small selection of Beats-related websites on the internet. This guide from Southern Connecticut State University lists many more.

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MLA Style

MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th ed.

  • Stacks (Call # A-L Level 4; Call # P-Z Level 5) - LB2369 .G53 2009
  • Reference Level 3 - LB2369 .G53 2009

Online MLA Formatting and Style Guide from the OWL at Purdue.

RefWorks is a database for research management, writing, and collaboration. Users can create a personalized profile to create, gather, manage, store, and share citations regardless of original format. Citation lists and bibliographies can be generated using many standard citation formats, including MLA. A code is needed to access RefWorks from home — please ask at the Library Research Office.

If you use Firefox, you may also want to check out Zotero, a citation manager that works directly from your browser.

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