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American Hipster - A Life Of Herbert Huncke - The Times Square Hustler Who Inspired The Beat Movement

by Steven Bergman
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Monday Apr 22, 2013
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The Beat Movement is considered one of the seminal literary trends of the mid-20th century. The free-flowing, yet exquisitely descriptive abilities of those writers continue to influence generations of authors and pop culturists since the founders were all congregated by fate in New York in the late 1940’s. The works of Jack Kerouac (the classic novel, "On the Road"), Allen Ginsberg (including his book of poetry, "Howl") and William Burroughs ("Junky," "Naked Lunch") provided the commercial might to legitimize this subculture also known for its alcohol and drug abuse as well as its (later) vocal political opposition.

Herbert Huncke’s (1915-1996) name is not traditionally mentioned with the three authors mentioned above, but his impact is no less important. This lack of acknowledgement is primarily due to his minimal literary output (only four published novels, one of them posthumously), but his association with and influence on, those writers in addition to his (frequently unwilling) encapsulation of what made someone "Beat," would eventually solidify his place alongside his contemporaries.

Virginia-based author, Hilary Holladay, gives us insight into the life of this unusual man in "American Hipster: A Life of Herbert Huncke - The Times Square Hustler Who Inspired the Beat Movement," now available from Magnus Books. The biography of Huncke is a thoroughly researched, yet no-holds barred look at this impish man; a lifelong drug-addict and con man who would never give you the shirt off his back, but could uncannily articulate how the shirt looked as he was taking it off yours.

"American Hipster" takes us from Huncke’s dysfunctional roots in Chicago, to his Manhattan exploits as a thief and freeloader (he never held steady employment, and served several jail terms) of dozens of friends and acquaintances who would cross his path, only to taken in by his remarkable ability to talk his way into (and out of) anything. Providing the backstories for his most notable stories (including "Elsie John" and "New Orleans, 1938"), as well as sequencing the events that would connect him to the Beat writers, Holladay helps to provide us with a clear image of the conniver whose persona would appear in the most famous books by Burroughs, Ginsberg and Kerouac.

Holladay conducted years of interviews and research for her book, and even though an index of the multitude of people mentioned would have been helpful, the result is the most comprehensive and accessible tome of Herbert Huncke created to date.

"American Hipster: The Times Square Hustler Who Inspired the Beat Movement,"

Hilary Holladay

Magnus Books

Steven Bergman is a Composer / Playwright / Performing Arts Educator based outside of Boston, MA.

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