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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Book Report: American Hipster - by Ben Horner

     Hilary Holladay, PH.D., scholar of American Literature, published this insightful biography on the life of not so well known Hebert Huncke. Well, at least not so well known by name. Huncke went by many names both in life and in the mythos of the “beat generation.”

     The use of cannabis, heroin, cocaine, as well as many other intoxicating drugs, was romanticized, documented, personified and popularized, after the Second World War, by several young authors and poets.  Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs are generally considered the fathers of this genre, known as the Beat Movement. These ‘beatniks’ all shared a common friend that became characters in several of their novels and writings.  Hebert Huncke inspired many fictitious characters, such as Elmer Hassle in Kerouac’s classic On the Road and as Herman in Boroughs’ infamous novel,  Junky.

     Hobo, street hustler, thief, sexual deviant and prolific drug user are just some of the ways Huncke was depicted and immortalized by the beat writers. What wasn’t documented, until recently was how important and undervalued Huncke was to this time in American Literature and how he inspired so many greats with his poetry, writing and charismatic story telling.  It was Hebert Huncke that connected many artists types in New York with all the city streets had to offer. “I’m beat to the socks” was a term coined by Huncke when describing the bohemian subculture of that generation.  

     Beat, exhausted and desperate from weeks and months on the streets, constantly on the hunt for drugs, Huncke guided these better educated, fellow aspiring authors to worlds that have captured the imagination of their readers ever since. Although not published till later in life, this book chronicles Hunches’ writings, personal writings as well as many other less well known beat writers. 

     Jerome Poynton, a personal friend of Huncke who was included in the book says this, “Anyone who wants to learn--an introductory course to Herbert Huncke--American Hipster is an essential.  This book gives more accurate interpretation of the beat generation phenomena….”

     Holladay not only documents Huncke’s role in the Beatnik culture, but she also creates a literary road map back through time.  Navigating along the life of Hebert Huncke, leads to all sorts of references that adds unique perspective to the mythos for beat scholars as well as those just being initiated into world of beatification.   

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