Peter Orlovsky papers, 1954-1971

Summary Information


The papers of the poet, member of the Beat Generation, and Allen Ginsberg's lover. The collection is comprised primarily of correspondence with some sketches, photographs, and diary fragments.

At a Glance

Call No.:
Bib ID:
4079181 View CLIO record
Orlovsky, Peter, 1933-2010; Orlovsky, Lafcadio
Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Physical Description:
.75 linear feet (1 document box 1 half size document box)
English .
You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located on-site.

This collection has no restrictions.



Correspondence of Orlovsky with Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Herbert Huncke, Jack Kerouac, Michael McClure, Philip Whalen, and others. Also, manuscripts of Allen Ginsberg, Lafcadio Orlovsky, and Peter Orlovsky, including his extensive diary notes for 1954-1955.

  • Series I: Correspondence, 1957-1971

    This series contains correspondence sent to Orlovsky, as well as some of his outbound correspondence. His incoming correspondence includes letters from members of his family and from friends such as Gregory Corso, Jack Kerouac, and Michael McClure. The bulk of the incoming correspondence is from Allen Ginsberg, sent while he was traveling through Europe and South America. Some of the Ginsberg correspondence includes poems or drawings along with the letter. There are also letters that Peter sent to friends and family, in particular to Janine Pommey. The correspondence series represents the bulk of the collection.

  • Series II: Drawings, Writings, and Photographs, 1954-1958

    This series contains sketches, dairy entries, and a small number of photographs created by Peter Orlovsky. The diary fragments are loose and many are undated.


This collection is arranged in 2 series.

Using the Collection

Restrictions on Access

You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located on-site.

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.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Peter Orlovsky 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 for more information.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Source of acquisition--05625F. Accession number--M-59.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Cataloged Christina Hilton Fenn 08/--/89.

Papers processed Carrie Hintz 11/--/2009.

Revision Description

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

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

Biographical / Historical

Peter Orlovsky was born in 1933 to Oleg, a Russian immigrant who painted silk neckties and Katherine Orlovsky, an aspiring writer. He was born in Manhattan, on the Lower East Side, but grew up on Long Island in the town of Northport. The family was poor and both Oleg and Katherine were alcoholics and the Orlovsky's five children were often neglected and abused. The oldest son, Julius, went mad and had, eventually to be institutionalized, and both Peter and his younger brother Lafcadio struggled throughout their lives with substance abuse.

Peter, the second of the Orlovsky's five children left his mother's home at 17. He worked as an orderly in a mental hospital in Queens while taking night classes to complete the requirements for his high school diploma. In 1953 he was drafted into the Korean war where he served as a medic in a hospital in San Francisco.

In 1954, Orlovsky and moved in with painter Robert LaVigne acting both as the painter's model and his lover. Through LaVigne he met other writers and artists, most significantly Allen Ginsberg. Orlovsky and Ginsberg almost immediately became lovers and within months entered into a marriage that would last most of the remainder of their lives.

Ginsberg and Orlovsky lived together first in North Beach in California and later in New York City, but also traveled extensively throughout Europe and the Mediterranean as well as India and Pakistan. Though he lived and traveled all over the globe, Peter felt his responsibility to his brothers Julius and Lafcadio keenly, and his trips abroad were often abbreviated in order for him to care for one or both of them.

With Ginsberg's influence and encouragement, Orlovsky began writing poetry in 1957 while the two were living in Paris. He was first published in 1960 and continued to write throughout that decade, though this is also when his own drug use, particularly amphetamines, was at its worst.

In 1970 Orlovsky moved to the farm Allen Ginsberg purchased in Cherry Valley, New York to pursue organic farming and his writing. He joined the faculty of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in 1974 to teach the course "Poetry for Dumb Students" and remained a core member of the faculty for several years. He was awarded a $10,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1979.

He is the author of several books of poetry including Dear Allen: Ship will land Jan 23, 58, Clean Asshole Poems & Smiling Vegetable Songs: Poems 1957-1977, Lepers Cry, and the volume Straight Hearts' Delight--Love Poems and Selected Letters, by Orlovsky and Allen Ginsberg as well as publishing poems in a number of periodicals. He was also featured in Robert Frank's documentary film Me and My Brother (1969), which explores Julius Orlovsky's mental illness.

Subject Headings

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

All links open new windows.

Diaries CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Burroughs, William S., 1914-1997 CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Corso, Gregory CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Ginsberg, Allen, 1926-1997 CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Huncke, Herbert CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Kerouac, Jack, 1922-1969 CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
McClure, Michael CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Orlovsky, Peter, 1933-2010 CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Whalen, Philip CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
American literature -- 20th century CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
American poetry -- 20th century CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Authors CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Beats (Persons) CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID
Bohemianism -- United States CLIO Catalog ArchiveGRID