As the 1960s wore on, rock 'n' roll replaced poetry and jazz as the vehicle for protest, LSD replaced peyote as the mind-expanding drug of choice and the polemical divisiveness of Vietnam subsumed the debate on the Cold War.
In his 1991 book "Venice West: The Beat Generation in Southern California," John Arthur Maynard suggests that the symbolic end of the Beat Generation came on Jan. 14, 1967, at a "gathering of the tribes" at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park; 30,000 people--including Ginsberg, Snyder, McClure and Timothy Leary--attended.
"It was almost literally a torch-passing ceremony," Maynard wrote. "The day began with a poetry reading and closed with a free concert by the most exciting new properties in the music business, including Quicksilver, Big Brother and the Grateful Dead. . . ."
Two years later Kerouac died of internal bleeding caused by alcoholism. He was 47.
Truman Capote, in an oft-repeated put-down, dismissed Kerouac: "Jack's work wasn't writing at all, it was typing." One critic sniffed that beat poetry was nothing but "shredded prose."
Now there are signs of a critical re-evaluation.
Marjorie Perloff, professor of humanities at Stanford and one of the country's foremost critics of 20th-Century poetry, has praised Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs. She argues that Ginsberg helped liberate poetry from a restrictive, conservative outlook.
Still, the push to add the beats to college reading lists may have come less from the faculty lounge than from the dormitory.
Ann Charters, a Kerouac biographer and editor of the "Portable Beat Reader," published by Viking in 1992, sees the beat revival as part of the challenge being presented by students to the academic notion of what is good literature.
"The whole questioning of the canon, the Great Tradition, that the feminists began, and that the Afro-American studies movement continues, is also true of white middle-class students," said Charters, who teaches at the University of Connecticut. "White middle-class students are the bulk of the student population and they want to read alternative literature too."
Even as the beat revival continues, there are cross-currents of criticism. The hottest topic among beat scholars is whether the beats were sexist.
"The beats, whether gay or straight, were very macho," Perloff said in an interview with the Berkeley-based journal Poetry Flash. At the Naropa conference, Waldman joked that only recently has she convinced Ginsberg to stop referring to women as girls. Charters said that while Kerouac did not rise above the male chauvinism of the 1950s, she believes that charges of sexism are overstated.
Beyond the concern for male bonding, other reasons have been suggested for the beat revival: their preoccupation with self-examination, the postmodern "edge," their acceptance of homosexuality and bisexuality, and their environmental advocacy.
"The beats were the literary arm of the environmental movement," said McClure. "The beats were stone-age hippies," said Ferlinghetti.
The same night that Ginsberg read "Howl" at the Six Gallery, McClure read his angry "For The Death of 100 Whales" about the U.S. Navy hunting the behemoth mammals: "Like sheep or children/Shot from the sea's bore."
Some observers suggest that the resurgence in beat literature has been fueled by the economic and social conflicts of the late 1980s and early 1990s. The era's sense of declining opportunities for the middle class, they say, is a cracked-mirror reflection of the malaise and political cynicism that gripped the country in the 1950s.
Another reason for the revival may be more technological: The boom in compact discs and cassettes. The beats fervently believed that their poetry should be read aloud, preferably to jazz.
Actor David Carradine read a three-hour version of "On The Road" released last year. A primer of beat poetry, "howls, raps & roars," was released by Fantasy Records. An anthology of Ginsberg's readings is set to be released by Rhino Records.
Kherdian, editor of the high school anthology, said the beat revival is part of a renewed struggle among poets and poetry lovers to rescue poetry from the "language poets" favored by academia. A protest was held to decry the New Yorker magazine's preference for poetry about "Greek gods, birdbaths and Connecticut angst."
Maynard, chronicler of the Venice beats, sees signs in the suburban town where he lives that the beats are back to stay.
"If there are poetry readings in coffeehouses in Simi Valley," he said, "it's going on everywhere."