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   Herbert E. Huncke Papers 1946-1973.

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Preferred Citation

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

COinS Metadata available (e.g., for Zotero).

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 E. Huncke Papers 1946-1973.
Physical description:2 linear feet (4 document boxes)
Language(s): Material is in English.
Access: This collection is located on-site. This collection has no restrictions.  More information »



This collection is arranged in two series:

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Scope and Content

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 Many of the notebooks include both fragments of published and unpublished manuscripts as well as general notes and daily observations.

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Using the Collection


Access Restrictions

This collection is located on-site.

This collection has no restrictions.

Restrictions on Use

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

Preferred Citation

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

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About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries. Rare Book and Manuscript Library; machine readable finding aid created by Columbia University Libraries Digital Library Program Division

Processing Information

Cataloged 07/--/89 Christina Hilton Fenn

Papers processed 10/--/2009 Carrie Hintz

Finding aid written 11/--/2009 Carrie Hintz

Machine readable finding aid generated from MARC-AMC source via XSLT conversion March 11, 2010 Finding aid written in English.
    2010-03-11 xml document instance created by Carrie Hintz
    2018-08-28 Corrected folder numbers in box one. kws

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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.


HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:


HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
Beat generation.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Drug abuse.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Ginsberg, Allen, 1926-1997.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Huncke, Herbert.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Nepal--Description and travel.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Orlovsky, Peter, 1933-PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Poets, American--20th century.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID

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History / Biographical Note


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.

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