Howl on Trial
Howl on Trial
The Battle for Free Expression

Edited by Bill Morgan, Nancy J. Peters
Introduction by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Press Reviews

Eclectica Magazine
Jan 1, 2009

"Howl on Trial as a whole is something of a documentary history, including letters between Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg (the latter remaining in Europe beyond the reach of law), photocopies of various contemporary newspaper and magazine articles written about the trial, excerpts from the trial transcript and the text of the Judge Clayton W. Horn's decision. These are rounded out with brief commemorative essays. The combination is highly informative and eminently readable. . . . the hero of Howl on Trial is clearly Lawrence Ferlinghetti. . . . A considerable majority of Americans would approve of both Judge Horn's decision and Lawrence Ferlinghetti's courage. . . . The hero of Howl on Trial deserves our unqualified respect and gratitude."

—Gilbert Purdy

"Featuring extensive trial transcripts, letters between Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg and clips from the San Francisco Chronicle – whose columnists strongly supported Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and Howl – the book offers a broad perspective. After a brief trial, federal Judge Clayton Horn ruled that Howl wasn't obscene because it had not been written with lewd intent and had 'redeeming social importance.' This set a landmark precedent, enabling the publication of books by, among others, Burroughs, Henry Miller and Vladimir Nabokov." - The Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Howl on Trial uses original sources, from Ginsberg's and others' letters to the trial transcripts, photos and media coverage of the time, and illuminates the private thoughts of some of the protagonists. It's sad, funny, silly and deadly serious in turns and at the same time." - The San Francisco Chronicle

"A fascinating assortment of material-newspaper articles, transcripts, photographs, letters from the principals, commentary-on the 1957 obscenity trial in San Francisco that pitted the 'people' against City Lights, the bookshop that published and sold Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems. A volume that will appeal to all who cherish their right to read uncensored the outpourings of the human heart." - Kirkus Reviews

"This year is the fiftieth anniversary of Howl and Other Poems, and to read the various volumes issued to celebrate the book's golden jubilee is to be reminded that half a century later, Ginsberg has remained an iconic countercultural figure . . . Howl and Other Poems was, of course, at the center of a landmark legal battle over obscenity (summaries of the battle and a collection of key documents relating to it are available in Howl on Trial: The Battle for Free Expression.)" - Bookforum

"When Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems was published Nov. 1, 1956, most of the first printing of 1,000 copies was seized by authorities in San Francisco on the grounds that the book was obscene. A year later, Ginsberg's publisher, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, was acquitted of selling obscenity. Fifty years later, more than 1 million copies of Howl are in print. New books about the poet, a gay leftist during the Cold War, include . . . Howl on Trial edited by Morgan and Nancy Peters." - USA Today

"This book is a kind of literary mix tape: a compendium of letters, newspaper articles, trial testimony transcripts, and other archival material that takes you right back to that culturally fraught time, when publishing great art could be considered a crime against society. It's both chilling and enlightening to read through it all." - Marc Weingarten, San Francisco Magazine


"A fitting tribute to Howl on its 50th anniversary, this casebook reprints Allen Ginsberg's landmark poem and collects important sources related to the obscenity trial that followed the 1957 sale of Howl & Other Poems at Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. With chronologies for Howl and "Milestones of Literary Censorship"; highly recommended." -William Gargan, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., CUNY in the Library Journal