The Beat Generation exhibit at the Oxford Library encourages listening and touching exhibit materials.
June Kwon photo

Oxford exhibit explores Beat Generation

A new multimedia exhibition at the Oxford College Library sheds light on the time after World War II and proves how some topics can transcend time.

Although the pieces showcase a time from between nearly 45 and 80 years ago, upon first look, library visitors might think they are from today's society.

“The Beat Generation & the Counterculture, 1940-1975” exhibition pinpoints a renewed period of social, political, and artistic activism in the United States. The displays feature actual and recreated post-war literature in the form of newspaper articles, poetry, manuscripts, letters, and books; tales of authors and activists; video and audio representation; and even Jack Kerouac's signed paint box.

“Dear Mr President, Love & poetry win—forever. War is always a great big lose (sic). I am a poet and a lover and a winnerhow about you?” reads one piece of work by Philip Whalen.

“Black People Boycott” and “The Three Day Lover” are titles of other pieces.

The exhibit mirrors one in the Woodruff Library at the Atlanta campus of Emory University.

“We thought the students would be interested in seeing these pieces,” says Ellen Neufeld, deputy director of the Oxford Library. “Our students study some of the authors, so it's interesting for them to see their actual pieces.”

Library staff selected the exhibit and work that fit with their space, which features various exhibits each year and also would interest the general public.

Neufeld especially enjoys this exhibit is hands onvisitors can listen to audio and watch video from the time period. A portion of the exhibit also allows patrons to lift up boards of the artist, or “beats,” with a photo on one side and flip to the other side to read more in depth about each artist, poet, writer or thinker during that time period. Beats include Neal Cassady, William S. Burroughs, Timothy Leary and William Everson, among others.

“Most of it is reproduction, which helps keep it safe. Usually you can't touch an exhibit,” she says, adding that many of the issues represented are relevant to many of today's time and political issues.

“The ability to protest something helps (students and other visitors) see that it really can make a difference and that there is a little bit of parallelism there.”

The pieces highlight women's rights, racism, LGBT issues, and other topics that are widely discussed across news media, social media, and in real life both between 1940 and 1975, and up until 2018.

“It's interesting how the Beat Generation parallels social and political situations now,” says library assistant Francesca Abulencia, a first-year engineering student from Florida. “Back then, they were fighting for like gay rights, and it's still going on now. It's interesting to see how it's still a continuation.”

Although there are many similar topics from 1940 to 2018, there is one thing that folks weren't saying back then: “I want an Instagram picture with it,” says library assistant Stephanie Lee, a first-year international studies and business marketing student from Saipan. “I like the colors. It catches the eye.”

The exhibit is open in the Fran Elizer Exhibit Space on the main level of the library until at least the end of the school year.

The Oxford College Library is open to students 24 hours per day, 7 days a week. Visitors are welcome at the library between 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Friday and Saturdays during the academic year. Guests should check in at the front desk.

More in-depth studies and tours of the exhibit can be scheduled through college archivist Elliott Kuecker or Kitty McNeill, dean of the library.