“American Hipster: The Life of Herbert Huncke, The Times Square Hustler Who Inspired the Beat Movement” by Hilary Holladay— Herbert Huncke— Hustler/Writer/Junkie

Holladay, Hilary. “American Hipster: The Life of Herbert Huncke, The Times Square Hustler Who Inspired the Beat Movement”, Magnus Books, 2013.

Herbert Huncke— Hustler/Writer/Junkie

Amos Lassen

This is the first biography of Herbert Huncke who was the man that during the beat era, turn the group onto sex, drugs and the counterculture and this went on to shape their writings and their lives while at the same radicalized American literature. Huncke was a sex worker in New York and he was also a heroin addict who managed to get Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs to take a look at him. He was an existentialist whose life bordered on despair and the term “beat” actually came from his quotation, “I’m beat man” and the term beat went on to signify and define the generation that searched for some kind of spiritual guidance and sustenance in post World War II America.

We find references to Huncke in Burroughs’s “Junky”, his account of his heroin addiction, in Ginsberg’s “Howl” and in Kerouac’s ”On the Road” but Huncke was more than just a character to these writers who loved his stories and they helped him to publish them. He appears in the biographies of the other beats but this is the first time we have his own life story. We see him as a youth in Chicago, his alliances with the beat writers and with Alfred Kinsey, the sexologist and we read of his adventures in America and in prison. He had a stormy relationship with Louis Cartwright who was killed in 1994 and whose murder remains unsolved still.

The book gives us a new perspective on the beat generation and the movement and is based on interviews between the author and friends of Huncke and representatives of the literary estates of Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs. We also learn of his unpublished correspondence and journals which are now at Columbia University. His life was influential and gritty and through this biography we really learn a lot about him. The book is an intelligent look at the man and the research is amazing.