San Francisco, CA

Would The Beat Generation Authors be Homeless in Today's San Francisco?

Amancay Tapia

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San Francisco has changed dramatically since the poets and writers of the Beat Generation settled in the Bay Area to live as artists back in the 1950s. By today's standards that talented generation that left an important cultural legacy in the Golden gate city, would be homeless, possibly suffering with substance abuse and poverty, and with no room of one's own-let alone a computer or tablet- to do their writing. According to a 2021 National Low Income Housing Coalition report, San Francisco residents renting a one bedroom apartment need a six-figure salary( $116,920) to afford it. 

Is it any wonder that many creative people are leaving or have left San Francisco for good?

As the city grows more expensive, artists and those who add cultural richness to a place are pretty much forced out. This at the cost of diversity. Life in San Francisco is for those who make a lot of money to afford the living costs. However, what made San Francisco a world renowned city is not the tech millionaires of today, but the city's culture and progressive mentality. Culture is intrinsic to the soul of the the city.

The “Beat Generation” authors influenced American culture in the post-World War II era and the generation continues to have an important impact on the city they called home.They were a group of friends who eventually created an anti-conformist movement. Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso, Herbert Huncke, and William S. Burroughs met at Columbia University in New York City and eventually moved to San Francisco where new members Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti (one of the founders City Lights Bookstore), Philip Whalen, Lew Welch, and Michael McClure, joined them. 

The most famous literary works by the Beat generation include Howl (1956) by Allen Ginsberg, Naked Lunch (1959) by William S. Burroughs’s, and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957) . Howl and Naked Lunch became the focus of obscenity trials which eventually "helped liberalize what could legally be published", says Kirsty Bisset and David S Wills in Beatdoom.

City Lights Bookstore is now a San Francisco literary landmark, it was the first bookstore in the country to sell only paperback books, and it has important counterculture works from the 1950s and 1960s. The writers and poets of our generation can still meet and held events at City Lights.

That was then, a time when writers and poets could afford living in the Bay Area. Currently many with artistic skills have been priced out of their homes, which will only help create a homogenised culture of people on big salaries. The Golden Gate artistic charm is definitely not what it was all those generations ago. Cities like San Francisco cannot be just playgrounds for the rich, the city needs affordable housing and affordable rents or the charm will be forever gone from the Bay Area.

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