SURF

Andrew King

The Statement of Who?: The Narrative of the Howl Trial and its Discontents

The 1957 obscenity trial of Allen Ginsbergs Howlthat cornerstone epic of the Beat generationis understood as a major episode not only in the history of American and West Coast poetics but in the history of American culture. Missing from prevailing accounts of the trial, however, is an assessment of the role of Gil Orlovitzs text, The Statement of Erika Keith and Other Stories, Poems and a Play. When undercover officers Russell Woods and Thomas Pagee purchased a copy of Howl in order to arrest City Lights Books clerk Shigeyoshi Murao for selling obscene materials, they bought Orlovitzs book as well; why, then, are there few and dismissive mentions of Orlovitz in popular and scholarly recollections of the period alike? Through extensive archival research, interviews, and literary analysis, I hope to determine the significance of this textand, consequently, whether or not a more nuanced appraisal of this mid-century confrontation between artists and their censors might be called for.

Message to Sponsor

The primary advantage of the SURF fellowship is the time it grants students like myself to pursue independent research projectssomething always in short supply. I cannot overstate my gratitude for the support, financial and personal, provided by the program; without it, completing this project would be inestimably more difficult. With SURF backing, I am enabled to more fully undertake an investigation into this event, which holds interest for me as a Bay Area native as well as a researcher of 20th-century and contemporary poetries.
  • Major: English, Philosophy
  • Sponsor: Anselm Fund
  • Mentor: Robert Hass, English