Kerouac vs. The Squares

Jack Kerouac leans closer to a radio to hear himself on a broadcast, 1959

In what would turn out to be a major cultural event for the under-30 crowd of the day, Brandeis University hosted a debate on the question "Is There a Beat Generation?" November 6, 1958.

Students packed Hunter College Playhouse to get a glimpse of Jack Kerouac, who, in his checkered shirt, black jeans and boots, was easy to spot among his suit-clad fellow panelists: novelist Kingsley Amis, New York Post editor James Wechsler and anthropologist Ashley Montagu.

According to his friend Allen Ginsburg, Kerouac was "slightly drunk, but in good humor and funny--tho' abused by philistines all around."

In this excerpt from WNYC's broadcast of the debate, Kerouac reads from his essay on the origins of the Beat Generation and describes how he came to call it so. After Kerouac spoke, Wechsler surmised: "Life is complicated enough without trying to make it a poem," and Amis concluded: "There may conceivably be a Beat Generation, but I very much doubt it."

(NYC Municipal Archives Collection)