Student study day: Beat Writing Day

Date: 23 January, 2009
Location: Department of American and Canadian Studies, University of Birmingham
Event type: Student study day


students in class

The study day will enable students of American Studies and other languages/ area studies to explore the Beats’ deconstruction of the production of written literary texts, with a focus on their writing experimentation. The hands-on workshop will enable students to explore texts kinesthetically, practically and through oral performance through mimicking but also critiquing the processes used by Beats authors (e.g. Burroughs, Kerouac, Ferlinghetti) to produce their work. The intention is to uncover and problematise processes of writing in the productions of literary texts and how these relate to context – that is to say the particular set of social and political and cultural conjunctions pertaining to the Beats’ experience of their society and its culture – and the representation of these in their experimental writing. The panel, of experts will include Professor R. J. Ellis (Birmingham), Professor Oliver Harris (Keele), and Dr Simon Warner (Leeds).

Workshop fee

There is no charge to attend for students of publicly funded UK educational institutions. The fee for employees and postgraduate students of private institutions/organisations and non-UK institutions is £40.


To register for the study day, please visit the Study Day website, complete the form and email it to the event organisers.


The study day will comprise three main sections:

  1. Spontaneous Composition. A talk on Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac, followed by a speed typing exercise in IT labs, to test out how spontaneous composition works and its problems and viability, measured against Kerouac’s objectives: issues of high and low art, caste and class. (90 minutes)
  2. William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, who devised the cut-up, fold in technique of composition to talk back to ‘the word’ and free up new meanings, released from the ‘word virus’. A talk on this technique will precede a practical application of the fold-in technique to written materials. (90 minutes)
  3. Oral delivery. How can poetry be read into reading without ‘flattening out’ meanings? Talk on Lawrence Ferlinghetti and his ‘oral messages’. Readings of oral poetry and the Beats (60 minutes)

A visit to the On the Road scroll exhibition, with a talk by the curator (R. J. Ellis). The talks will highlight how, in all instances, cross-cultural and transnational – embracing the aesthetics of dada, surrealism, modernism, jazz. Deliberate cross-reference will be made in each element, so that the Beat’s revolutionary intentions in their assaults upon conventional literary style can be gauged, and related to their contexts.


The study day was held at the University of Birmingham in the Arts Building. The event was held in two rooms in the Arts Building: an IT laboratory for the spontaneous writing (typing) exercise and a large open-plan class room for the cut-up and oral performance exercises.

The event centred on exploring three different, characteristic Beat writing modes:

1: spontaneous prose
2: cut-ups
3: oral performance

After the first exercise, the students were taken across, to the 'Back On the Road', an exhibition featuring the original typescript of On the Road - the world-famous 1951 scroll, accompanied by an exhibition of other books by Kerouac, maps, photographs, posters and memorabilia and timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the book's publication in the UK and Eire (1958).

28 students attended, including students from the University of Birmingham, Staffordshire University, University of Central Lancashire and Nottingham Trent University.

This day proved to be a great success, as reflected in the evaluation responses.


Cut-Ups Self-Explained in Brion Gysin, William S. Burroughs & Ian Sommerville, Brion Gysin Let The Mice In (West Glover VT: Something Else Press, 1973).

Jack Kerouac (1959) October in The Railroad Earth.

Jack Kerouac (original 1959) "Essentials of Spontaneous Prose" in Ann Chaters, ed., The Portable Beat Reader (New York: Viking, 1992). Available at

Allen Ginsberg poems 'Howl' (1956), 'Kaddish' (1959) and 'One Thousand Fearful Words for Fidel Castro' (1960).