In 1956, Lawrence Ferlinghetti decided to publish Allen Ginsberg’s "Howl" in 1956. The seminal poem broke social taboos by talking about drugs and race.
“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical, naked dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,” the poem reads.
In an era characterized by conformity, “Howl” was a call to self-expression. But history notes that “Howl” became more. In 1957, Ferlinghetti was put on trial for publishing obscene materials. That trial became the center of the free speech movement, and it brought the Beat generation, Ferlinghetti’s bookstore, City Lights, and this wild poem to the world stage.
In 2010, over 50 years after it was written, two filmmakers decided they would adapt this historic work. In this story from our archives, reporter Emily Wilson tells us how they went about making a movie about a poem and freedom of expression.
Click the audio player above to listen to the story.
You can see still images of Allen Ginsberg’s beat generation taken by the poet himself – they are on display at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in an exhibit called “Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg,” on display through September 8th. For more information, click here.