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Earliest-Known Recording of Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" Found in Reed College Archives


A sampling of the recording will be played on Wednesday, February 13, at 7:30 p.m., in Reed's Eliot Hall chapel. Reed English professor Pancho Savery, who teaches courses on the Beats (including Reed alumni Lew Welch '50, Philip Whalen '51, and Gary Snyder '51) will read from the works of Ginsberg.


Portland, OR (February 11, 2008) – On a February night in 1956, Allen Ginsberg stood in front of a group of students in a dormitory lounge at Reed College and read from a manuscript that a few months later would be published as Howl and Other Poems. "Howl" is Ginsberg's most famous and controversial poem, and a seminal work of the Beat Generation. The book sparked censorship debates that are credited with broadening First Amendment protections.

The February 1956 recording at Reed was duly labeled, cataloged, and then overlooked in the college's library for more than 50 years. Literary scholar John Suiter rediscovered the tape last summer while researching a biography of poet Gary Snyder (Reed Class of 1951, winner of the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry); Snyder and Ginsberg were on a hitch-hiking trip to the Pacific Northwest at the time the tape was made and spent February 13-14 on campus giving poetry readings. Suiter concludes in a forthcoming article in the Reed alumni magazine that this is the earliest-known recording of Ginsberg reading "Howl." On the recording, Ginsberg reads to the conclusion of Part I, but ends before completing Part II, saying, "I don't really feel like reading any more. I just sorta' haven't got any kind of steam."

A sampling of the recording will be played on Wednesday, February 13, at 7:30 p.m., in Reed's Eliot Hall chapel. Reed English professor Pancho Savery, who teaches courses on the Beats (including Reed alumni Lew Welch '50, Philip Whalen '51, and Gary Snyder '51) will read from the works of Ginsberg.

The pristine recording of "Howl" caught on tape that night at Reed differs in numerous ways from the legendary first public reading of the poem at San Francisco's Six Gallery in October 1955. It predates by approximately five weeks the previous earliest-known recording of "Howl," made at the Town Hall Theatre in Berkeley on March 18, 1956.

The historic find at Reed provides insight into Ginsberg's writing process and opens a window on the Beats before they were well-known, with Ginsberg joking with his student audience about "corrupting the youth," and commenting about the relationship of "Howl" to the jazz rhythms of Lester Young.

Reed's original "Howl" recording, along with the seven other poems Ginsberg read at Anna Mann Cottage that night, are available as audio files on Reed's site.