|Allen Ginsberg was born in Newark, New Jersey to a schoolteacher-poet fatherand a mentally unstable mother. Both parents espoused leftist politics,though the father's mainstream leftism was overshadowed by the mother'sobsession with Stalin and communism. Initially more influenced by theirpolitics than their artistic inclinations, Ginsberg intended to make themproud by studying pre-law at Columbia University. After encounters with MarkVan Doren and Lionel Trilling, however, Ginsberg changed his tack and becamea literature student. The world of contemporary writing quickly opened upfor him: through Lucien Carr, a fellow student, he met both WilliamBurroughs and Jack Kerouac. In 1945, Ginsberg was suspended from Columbia,either for harboring Kerouac in his room, or for writing offensive protestslogans on his dorm room window, or both. After a period of wandering, hefound himself back at Columbia--as a patient in the psychiatric ward. After 8months of treatment and concerted effort, he finally graduated with his B.A.in 1949. Feeling newly respectable, and determined to stay that way,Ginsberg took up with a young woman and tried to make a career for himselfas a marketing researcher. His job studying America's attitudes towardstoothpaste entertained him for a while, but finally his efforts to playstraight wore him down, and he abandoned New York, the professional world,and his feigned heterosexuality. He moved to San Francisco in 1954 andimmersed himself in a pool of artists and writers, including the influentialolder poet Kenneth Rexroth and Peter Orlovsky, with whom he fell in love andsustained a relationship for 30 years. In the summer of 1955, Ginsberg beganwriting HOWL, the poem that would change his life and make as deep a mark onAmerican poetry as any poem of the 20th century. Lawrence Ferlinghettipublished HOWL in 1956, with a preface by William Carlos Williams and inspite of an obscenity trial that threatened to bury the poem in infamy.Ginsberg's career took off from this point, but he didn't limit himself tofurthering his poetic success: he aimed for a worldwide impact. He metTimothy Leary in 1960, who admitted him to his Psilocybin Project atHarvard, and turned Ginsberg into a disciple of psychedelia. As a poet andcultural warrior, Ginsberg was ubiquitous in the 1960s, travelling the worldin search of enlightenment (India, Japan) or enjoyable trouble (Cuba,Prague); participating in Ken Kesey's Acid Tests; leading, with Gary Snyder,the OM chant at the 1967 Be-In in San Francisco; taking part in the 1968Chicago Democratic Convention turmoil; and testifying at the trial of theChicago 7. As the sixties wound down, Ginsberg channeled his energy intomore spiritual pursuits, taking on Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche as his guru in1970 and founding the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at theNaropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado in the same year. His poetry tookcenter stage again in 1973, when he won the National Book Award for THE FALLOF AMERICA, but in 1977 he toured with Bob Dylan and the Rolling ThunderReview. In the early 1980s he collaborated with The Clash, performing bothon their COMBAT ROCK album and appearing on stage with them in concert.Wherever Ginsberg went, controversy was sure to follow, and even as late as1988 the Pacifica radio station WBAI blocked a plan to read HOWL on air,fearing it would violate obscenity laws. But there were honors anddistinctions to balance the scandals: in 1986 Ginsberg won the Frost Medalfor Poetry, in 1990 he won an American Book Award, and in 1993 he was made aChevalier de l'ordre des Arts et Letters by the French Minister of Culture.He began teaching at Brooklyn College in 1986 and remained in New York untilhis death, of liver cancer, on April 5, 1997.