Thursday, May 7, 2015

John Tytell (born May 17, 1939) is an American writer and academic, whose works on such literary figures as Jack Kerouac, Ezra Pound, Allen Ginsberg, Henry Miller, and William S. Burroughs, have made him both a leading scholar of the Beat Generation, and a respected name in literature in general. He has been a professor of English at Queens College, City University of New York since 1977. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his Ezra Pound: The Solitary Volcano (1987).


Tytell was born in Antwerp, Belgium. As Tytell would later write about this time period in his book Reading New York, literature was both an escape from the gloom of his darkened bedroom, as well as a subversive act of defiance, because he was forbidden to read for fear that the strain would damage his eyes.

The impetus for the book Naked Angels (published in 1976 by McGraw Hill) was a paper that Tytell presented at "The Last Lecture Series" held by Queens College, entitled: The Beat Generation and the Continuing American Revolution. In terms of an advancement for the study of the Beats, both the paper and the subsequent book were incredibly important as a scholar had begun to seriously analyze major Beat texts.

Tytell's next book, Ezra Pound: The Solitary Volcano earned him a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize in 1987, and established him as a major chronicler of America's most important Men of Letters, and has never gone out of print. This career-making book was quickly followed by Passionate Lives, a study of both English and American writers, and the relationships that helped form their creative visions, which was translated into German and Korean.

The Living Theatre: Art, Exile and Outrage saw Tytell casting his eye from literature to the stage, where he saw the same rebellious spirit typified in The Beat culture, exert itself in the Living Theatre, which is both a New York and an American institution.

Tytell next teamed up with his wife, Mellon Tytell, whose photographic study of many Beat literary figures mirrored his own writing, to produce the book, Paradise Outlaws. The book is an overarching picture of both the major and minor figures of the Beat Generation. Mellon provided photographs of William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, as well as Carl Solomon, Jan Kerouac and others, while Tytell wrote complementing descriptions of those depicted, and a text commenting on the significance and importance of the Beats. The book can be seen as a follow up to Naked Angels, but with the added advantage of a twenty-five year removed perspective, to the lasting importance of the now widely recognized literary movement--a movement he first brought into the realm of legitimacy.

Reading New York, published in 2003 is Tytell's most recent work, and can be seen as a hybrid of memoir, biography of American writers, history of New York, as well as literary criticism. The book spans from Melville to the present day, and weaves Tytell's life with those of the mainly New York writers who had inspired him since those nights of reading in the dark, that lead him to a nearly forty year career in the printed word.

Selected works

  • The Beat Interviews, Beatdom Books, 2014.
  • Paradise Outlaws: Remembering the Beats, William Morriw/Harper Collins: New York, 1999. Photographs by Mellon Tytell
  • The Living Theatre: Art, Exile and Outrage, Grove Press: New York, 1995. Paperback edition: Grove Press, 1997. British edition: Methuen, 1997. Spanish edition: Los Libros de la Liebre de Marzo, Barcelona, 1999.
  • Passionate Lives: D.H. Lawrence, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Miller, Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Plath--In Love, Birch Lane Press: Carol Publishers, New York, 1991. German edition: Arche Verlang, 1993. Paperback edition: St. Martin's Press, New York, 1995. South Korean edition: Ahchimyisul Publishers, 2005.
  • Ezra Pound: The Solitary Volcano, Doubleday: New York, 1987, and Bloomsbury: London. Paperback edition: Doubleday, Anchor, 1988. French edition for La Font Seghers: Paris, 1990. Second French edition for Editions du Rocher, 2002. American reprint: Ivan S. Dee, 2004.
  • Naked Angels: Lives and Literature of the Beat Generation, McGraw Hill, 1976. Paperback edition, 1977. Japanese edition, 1978. German edition, 1979. Grove Press edition, 1986. Grove Weidenfeld Evergreen edition, 1991. Czech Republic edition: Votobia, 1997. Ivan Dee edition, 2006.


John Tytell

John Tytell
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