BEAT ATLAS by Bill Morgan

reviewed by Jackson Ellis | Sunday, September 4th, 2011

City Lights, 269 pages, paperback, $15.95

In the vein of his prior two Beat Generation guidebooks — The Beat Generation in New York and The Beat Generation in San Francisco — author Bill Morgan takes readers on a tour of the entire United States. While the Beats were largely centered in New York and San Francisco, books such as Jack Kerouac’s On The Road are testament to the fact that the famed group of writers and artists were well-traveled across the whole country.

Beat Atlas: A State by State Guide to the Beat Generation in America is a collection of factoids and anecdotes that serves as both a travel guide and a trip in and of itself for the armchair voyagers. It is incredibly well researched, taking readers to more obvious locations (up Washington’s Sourdough Mountain with Gary Snyder, or to each and every one of Neal Cassady’s boyhood homes in Denver), to otherwise anonymous towns not recorded in any book (such as Dillingham, Alaska, which once hosted a reading by Ken Kesey, or Dickinson, North Dakota, where Kerouac once slept in a broken down bus with a knapsack filled with 15 bologna sandwiches).

Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of Beat Atlas is that, unlike Morgan’s previous two books, one does not have to live in or visit one of two major cities. Often, one can find a bit of Beat Generation history in their own backyard. Every state is accounted for — and, furthermore, so is just about every poet, artist, or muse ever associated with the group. The icing on the cake is the bevy of photographs spread throughout the book – including shots by Allen Ginsberg, Bob Rosenthal, and more.

Morgan’s San Francisco and New York City tour guides were especially wonderful for people visiting the two cities with a keen interest in digging up the old Beat haunts — Beat Atlas, though, covers so much more ground, and creates widespread intrigue, bringing literary history into the reader’s home state and far beyond.

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