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Women of the Beat Generation: The Writers, Artists, and Muses at the Heart of the Revolution

WOMEN OF THE BEAT GENERATION: THE WITERS, ARTISTS, AND MUSES AT THE HEART OF THE REVOLUTION
edited by Brenda Knight
Conari Press, Berkeley, CA, $19.95

This refreshing book revives the women who were at the center of the Beat movement but were concealed in the long shadows of their male counterparts. This is a collection of fascinating biographical essays, photos, poetry and prose (some previously unpublished) of 40 unique women who “turn[ed] their backs on ‘the good life’ the fifties promised” to work toward the fulfillment of their own rebellious, creative lives. These women, editor Brenda Knight suggests, “were feminist before the word was coined.”

Several of these women were Jewish (Aya Tarlow, Lenore Kandel, Helen Hinkle, Barbara Guest, Jane Bowles, Denise Levertov, Elise Cowen, Hettie Jones and ruth weiss) but only a few were identified as such—both in the book and in their own lives. Hettie Jones left behind her childhood as “a white Jewish girl on Long Island” to marry black writer and revolutionary LeRoi Jones. And ruth weiss, who wrote of her chilling childhood escape from the Nazis in Austria, went on to to make a name for herself in the Beat music scene for her success in evoking jazz through words. This book gives rightful places to influential Beat women alongside Timothy Leary, Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsburg, who by now need no introduction.