Herbert Huncke

Herbert Huncke

Herbert Huncke (January 9, 1915 – August 8, 1996) was a sub-culture icon, writer, homosexual pioneer (he participated in Alfred Kinsey's studies), drug addict, criminal, and participant in various American social movements of the 20th century. He was a member of the Beat Generation.

Early life

Born in Greenfield, Massachusetts and reared in Chicago, Herbert Huncke was a street hustler, high school dropout and drug addict who lived the lifestyle described by Jack Black in his autobiography "You Can't Win". The book—and Huncke's life—was centered around living as an outlaw hobo, jumping trains across the vast expanse of the United States, bonding through a shared destitution and camaraderie with other hoboes of all walks of life. Although Huncke later came to regret his loss of family ties, in his autobiography, "Guilty of Everything", he states his lengthy jail sentences were a partial result of his lack of family support. Huncke left Chicago as a teenager after his parents divorced. Despite the fantasies the largely college-educated beat generation had about Huncke, he was from as much of a middle-class background as they were.

New York City & Times Square

Huncke arrived in New York City in 1939. He was dropped off at 103rd and Broadway, and he asked the person from whom he had hitched a ride how to find 42nd Street. "You walk straight down Broadway", he was told, "and you will find 42nd Street". Huncke, always a good dresser, bought a boutonniere for his jacket and headed for 42nd Street. For the next ten years Huncke was a 42nd Street regular and became known as the "Mayor of 42nd Street."

At this point, Huncke's regular haunts were 42nd Street and Times Square, where he associated with people of all kinds including prostitutes (both male and female) and sailors. During World War II, Huncke shipped out to sea as a United States Merchant Marine to ports in South America, Africa and Europe. He landed on the beach of Normandy three days after the invasion.

Aboard ships, Huncke would kick his drug habit or keep it up with morphine syrettes supplied by the ship medic. When he returned to New York, he returned to 42nd Street, and it was after one of these trips where he met then-unknown writer William S. Burroughs, who was selling a sawed-off shotgun and a box of morphine syrettes. Huncke took an immediate dislike to Burroughs and thought he was "heat," slang for undercover police or FBI. Assured that Burroughs was all right, Huncke bought the morphine and, at Burroughs' request, immediately gave him an injection.

Thus began a long career of drug use by Burroughs, and Huncke became a lead character in William Burrough's first pulp novel, written under the pseudonym Bill Lee, "JUNKIE: Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict". After Huncke first exposed Burroughs to both jive talk and morphine, these elements became central to Burroughs' writing. Huncke was a close friend of Joan Adams Vollmer Burroughs, William's common-law wife, sharing a fondness for amphetamines with her. In the late 1940s Huncke was invited to Texas to grow marijuana on the Burroughs farm.

Huncke was a bisexual hustler, drug user, thief and burglar. His autobiography, titled "Guilty of Everything", was lived in the 1940s and 1960s but published in the 1990s.

During the late 1940s, Huncke was recruited to be a subject in Alfred Kinsey's research on the sexual habits of the American male. He was interviewed by Kinsey, and recruited fellow addicts and friends to participate. Huncke was a writer, unpublished, since his days in Chicago and gravitated toward literary types and musicians. In the music world, Huncke visited all the jazz clubs and associated with Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker and Dexter Gordon (with whom he was once busted on 42nd Street for breaking into a parked car). When he first met Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, they were interested in writing and also unpublished. They were inspired by his stories of 42nd Street life, criminal life, street slang and Huncke's vast experience with drugs. Huncke told them stories of life on 42nd Street, his life on the road prior to New York City and, obligingly, turned them on to drugs. In turn, Huncke was immortalized in Kerouac's "On the Road" as the character Elmer Hassel.

Although it was his passion for thievery, heroin use and the outlaw lifestyle which fueled his daily activities, ultimately, when he was caught, he never ratted out his friends. In the late 1940s, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Melody and "Detroit Redhead" flipped a car in Queens, New York, while trying to run down a motorcycle cop. Although Huncke was not at the scene of the crime, he was picked-up in Manhattan because he lived with Ginsberg, and Huncke received the heavy prison sentence.

"Someone had to do the bit." Huncke said years later.

Writing career

Huncke himself was a natural storyteller, a unique character with a paradoxically honest take on life. Later, after the formation of the so-called Beat Generation, members of the Beats encouraged Huncke to publish his notebook writings, which he did with limited success in 1964 with Diane DiPrima's Poet's Press. (Huncke's Journal) Huncke used the word "Beat" to describe someone living roughly with no money and few prospects. Huncke was considered to have coined the phrase that eventually came to describe an entire generation. Jack Kerouac later insisted that "Beat" was derived from beatification, to be supremely happy. However, it is thought that this definition was a defense of the beat way of life, which was frowned upon and offended many American sensibilities.

Huncke died in 1996 at age 81. He had been living for several years in a garden apartment on East 7th Street near Avenue D in New York City, supported fiancially in old age by his friends, David Sands, Jerome Poynton, Tim Moran, Gani Remorca, Raymond Foye and many others. In his last few years, he lived in the Chelsea Hotel, where his rent came from financial support from Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead, whom Huncke never met.

Quotes on Huncke

Jack Kerouac described Huncke in his "Now it's Jazz" reading from "Desolation Angels", chapter 77::"Huck, whom you'll see on Times Square, somnolent and alert, sad, sweet, dark, holy. Just out of jail. Martyred. Tortured by sidewalks, starved for sex and companionship, open to anything, ready to introduce a new world with a shrug."

John Clellon Holmes described Albert Ancke, his representation of Huncke in "Go" in Chapter 14 of part 2::"A sallow, wrinkled little hustler, hatless and occupying a crumpled sport shirt as though crouched in it to hide his withered body."

Admired by David Wojnarowicz in his personal diaries, "In the Shadow of the American Dream", where their meetings/dates are documented.

Frank McCourt mentions knowing Huncke in Chapter 16 of "Teacher Man"::"Alcohol is not his habit but he'll kindly allow you to buy him a drink at Montero's. His voice is deep, gentle and musical. He never forgets his manners and you'd rarely think of him as Huncke the Junkie. He respects law and obeys none of it."


* "" (New York: Paragon House Publishers, 1990), Edited by Don Kennison, foreword by William S. Burroughs. ISBN 1-55778-044-7.
* "Guilty of Everything (excerpt)" Edited by Raymond Foye. (New York & Madras: Hanuman Books, 1987), ISBN 0-937815-08-X
* "The Evening Sun Turned Crimson" (Cherry Valley, NY: Cherry Valley Editions, 1980), ISBN 0-916156-43-5.
* "Huncke's Journal" (Poets Press, 1965). Out of Print. Edited by Diane DiPrima, foreword by Allen Ginsberg.
* "The Herbert Huncke Reader" edited by Ben Schaeffer (New York: Morrow, 1997), ISBN 0-688-15266-X. (Includes the complete texts of "The Evening Sun Turned Crimson" and "Huncke's Journal").
* "Again–The Hospital" (White Fields Press, Louisville, 1995). 1/50 copies. (Broadside; single sheet, measuring 12 by 22 inches, illustrated with a photograph of Huncke.)
* "Herbert E. Huncke 1915-1996" (New York: Jerry Poynton 1996). (Limited edition of 100 copies of the program for the Herbert Huncke memorial at Friends Meetinghouse, New York City. Includes original texts.)


*Charters, Ann (ed.). "The Portable Beat Reader". Penguin Books. New York. 1992. ISBN 0670838853 (hc); 0140151028 (pbk)

*McCourt, Frank. "Teacher Man". Scribner. New York. 2005.

External links

* [http://www.joeambrose.net/ Essays by Huncke collaborator Joe Ambrose on the Chelsea Hotel, Tangier Beat Generation, William Burroughs; plus photographs of Huncke, Burroughs, etc.]
* [http://www.metroactive.com/papers/metro/12.04.97/books-9749.html Metroactive.com article, "Herbert Huncke, the unsung Beat, finally gets his due", by Harvey Pekar]
* [http://www.litkicks.com/BeatPages/page.jsp?what=HerbertHuncke Lit Kicks Bio]
* [http://metaclick.com/huncke/ "Huncke and Louis" A Video Documentary by Laki Vazakas]
* [http://www.kerouacalley.com/huncke.html Kerouac Alley Multimedia Directory]
* [http://realitystudio.org/interviews/herbert_huncke_by_johnny_strike Herbert Huncke interviewed by Johnny Strike]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Herbert Huncke — Herbert Edwin Huncke (9 janvier 1915 – 8 août 1996) est une icône de la sous culture de la beat generation. Écrivain, pionnier des droits homosexuels (il a participé à étudier la communauté gay avec Alfred Kinsey), drogué, criminel, Huncke a… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Herbert Huncke — (* 9. Januar 1915 in Greenfield, Massachusetts; † 8. August 1996 in New York City) war eine Ikone der Subkultur, Beatnik, Autor und Pionier der Schwulenbewegung. Leben Obwohl einziges Kind einer Mittelklassefamilie, erhielt Huncke nie die… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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  • Huncke, Herbert — (1915–1996)    Herbert Huncke introduced the Beats to the term “beat.” “Huncke was a crucial figure,” writes Ted Morgan in Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs, “a sort of Virgilian guide to the lower depths, taking [the… …   Encyclopedia of Beat Literature

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  • Huncke, Herbert — ▪ 1997       U.S. writer who gave the Beat Generation its name; a drug addict, thief, and prostitute who spent much of the 1950s in prison, he was muse to such writers as Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, and he often appeared in their novels… …   Universalium

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  • Beat-Generation — Als Beat Generation wird eine Richtung der US amerikanischen Literatur nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg bezeichnet. Hauptvertreter der so genannten Beatniks waren Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac und Gregory Corso. Inhaltsverzeichnis… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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