Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Herbert Huncke papers, 1946-1980

Summary Information


Writer, counter-culture figure and associate of Beat Generation writers such as Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovksy, and Jack Kerouac.

At a Glance

Call No.: MS#0635
Bib ID 4078923 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Huncke, Herbert
Title Herbert Huncke papers, 1946-1980
Physical Description 2.5 linear feet (5 manuscript boxes)
Language(s) English .

Box 5 of this collection is located off-site. You will need to request this box at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

This collection has no restrictions.



This collection is arranged in three series



This collection contains correspondence, journal entries, manuscript writings, and miscellaneous notes.

  • Series I: Correspondence, 1946-1973

    Series I consists of correspondence sent to and written by Herbert Huncke. The correspondence, much composed while Huncke was in jail, documents his varied relationships with his friends and cohorts, as well as shedding some insight onto his writings.

    The correspondence is arranged alphabetically by composer of the item, and chronologically within each writer.

  • Series II: Writings, 1948-1971

    Series II is comprised of Herbert Huncke's writings, including manuscripts, notebooks, and journals. Many of the notebooks include both fragments of published and unpublished manuscripts as well as general notes and daily observations.

  • Series III: Audio Visual

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

Box 5 of this collection is located off-site. You will need to request this box at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

This collection has no restrictions.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

The RBML cannot provide access to original time-based media material which has not been first been reformatted for preservation. Researchers are welcome to examine archival time-based media items and decide whether they wish to place an order for Audio/Video reformatting. If copyright and/or condition restrictions apply, it may not be possible to digitize a requested item. Please note that A/V reformatting is handled by an outside vendor and typically takes 6-8 weeks.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Herbert Huncke papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.


Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact rbml@columbia.edu for more information.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Method of acquisition--Purchase; Accession number--M-59.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Cataloged Christina Hilton Fenn 07/--/89.

Papers processed Carrie Hintz 10/--/2009.

Finding aid written Carrie Hintz 11/--/2009.

Corrected folder numbers in finding aid. kws 2018-08-28

PTL added box 5 (audiotapes) on 10/17/2019. Accession 2019.2020.M064

Revision Description

2010-03-11 xml document instance created by Carrie Hintz

2018-08-28 Corrected folder numbers in box one. kws

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Diaries Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Authors Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Beats (Persons) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Drug abuse Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Drugs Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Ginsberg, Allen, 1926-1997 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Huncke, Herbert Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Narcotics Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Nepal -- Description and travel Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Orlovsky, Peter, 1933-2010 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Poets, American -- 20th century Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Prisoners Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical / Historical

Herbert Huncke was born in Greenfield, Massachusetts in 1915, but moved as a young boy to Detroit and then Chicago where his father owned H.S. Huncke, a company that distributed machine parts.

Though Huncke grew up in a comfortable middle class household (a history he recounts in some of his pieces of writing, most notably "Love" and "Song of the Self"), his family life was not particularly smooth and he often ran away from home. When he was 17 he went to New York for the first time and, after a few years drifting around the country working odd jobs, he relocated to the city more-or-less permanently in 1939.

Over the next several years, Huncke, a junkie, drug-dealer, hustler, and small time thief, became deeply involved in the street scene that had emerged around Times Square. Though he left New York for a time during World War II to serve as a merchant marine, his return to the city meant a return to drugs and the demimonde of 42nd Street. It was as a bisexual Times Square hustler that Huncke drew Alfred Kinsey's interest and in his capacity as petty thief and mover of stolen goods that Huncke first became affiliated with the William S. Burroughs. In 1945 Burroughs approached Huncke's roommate about selling a shotgun and a cache of morphine syrettes. Though initially Huncke was deeply suspicious of the clean-cut Burroughs, the two became close friends and Huncke was adopted into Burroughs's group of young friends, including Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

Huncke, with his history of prostitution, drug-use, and other criminal activity became a sort of talisman of authenticity for the young writers. They adopted his hipster street lingo--Huncke reputedly coined the term "beat" and his drug-fueled lifestyle and used him as an urban hipster muse (Huncke appears as a character in many of Kerouac's works, as well as Burroughs's Junky, and is mentioned in Ginsberg's "Howl.").

In the 1940s Huncke began to write more seriously himself, composing many of the stories and journal entries that he would later publish. In 1947 he briefly moved to the Texas farm where Burroughs and his wife Jean Vollmer were growing marijuana. He returned to New York where, in 1949, he was arrested for theft and did a stint in Sing Sing. He was released in 1954, but ran afoul of the law again the next year and landed back in prison, where he remained until 1959.

Upon his return to New York he reconnected with his beat friends, living for a time in the same building as Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky (with whom Huncke had a brief affair). He moved around New York's Lower East Side for most of the rest of his life. He met Louis Cartwright in the 1970s and Cartwright became Huncke's lover and primary caretaker for most of the remainder of Huncke's life. Huncke enrolled in a methadone program in an attempt to kick his heroin habit, but the program was never fully successful.

Though he began his writing in the 1940s, he found it very difficult to write in prison, so did very little writing during the 1950s. He gained some popularity giving live reading in New York City, but was not published until 1965 when Diane DiPrima's Poets Press published excerpts from his journal. His story "Alvarez" was published in Playboy in 1968 and he had small editions of his work released through small presses with Elsie John and Joey Martinez released in 1979 and The Evening Sun Turned Crimson in 1980. His autobiography Guilty of Everything: The Autobiography of Herbert Huncke was released in 1990 and a posthumous collection of his work, The Herbert Huncke Reader was published in 1997.

Herbert Huncke died in 1996 at the age of 81.