The Beat Generation evolved in the 1940’s and 1950’s, headed by a holy trinity of Allen Ginsberg(1926-1997), William S Burroughs(1914-1997) and Jack Kerouac(1922-1969). It gave us literature inspired by the cadences of Be Bop jazz, spontaneous and non conformist, dealing with issues such as sexual liberation, drug use and alternative religious views (such as Zen Buddhism). There was a rejection of the materialistic ideals of cold war USA.
The phrase Beat Generation was coined by Kerouac in 1948, describing the New York scene at that time; the name came up in conversation with the novelist John Clellon Holmes (who in 1952 published an article in the New York Times Magazine titled This is the beat generation).
The movement was massively influential on the counterculture of the following decades. In Friction, 1 (Winter 1982) , Ginsberg published a summary of “the essential effects” of the Beat Generation .
Spiritual liberation, sexual “revolution” or “liberation,” i.e., gay liberation, somewhat catalyzing women’s liberation, black liberation, Gray Panther activism.
Liberation of the world from censorship.
Demystification and/or decriminalization of cannabis and other drugs.
The evolution of rhythm and blues into rock and roll as a high art form, as evidenced by the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and other popular musicians influenced in the later fifties and sixties by Beat generation poets’ and writers’ works.
The spread of ecological consciousness, emphasized early on by Gary Snyder and Michael McClure, the notion of a “Fresh Planet.”
Opposition to the military-industrial machine civilization, as emphasized in writings of Burroughs, Huncke, Ginsberg, and Kerouac.
Attention to what Kerouac called (after Spengler) a “second religiousness” developing within an advanced civilization.
Return to an appreciation of idiosyncrasy as against state regimentation.
Respect for land and indigenous peoples and creatures, as proclaimed by Kerouac in his slogan from On the Road: “The Earth is an Indian thing.”
In June 1959 Playboy featured a piece by Kerouac on the origins of The Beat Generation (by now he was 37 and a best selling novelist).
Scans of the article from Playboy (June 1959): http://rapidshare.com/files/389348330/jk.rar
Audio files (MP3) of Kerouac’s readings on the Beat Generation: