Newswise — Recently discovered and newly digitized versions of never-before-released videos of the “Beat Generation” poets are now on line, thanks to the University of North Dakota.

The 1974 footage records the 5th Annual University of North Dakota (UND) Writers Conference, “City of Lights in North Dakota,” featuring Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, Michael McClure, Kenneth Rexroth and Peter Orlovsky.

It is believed to be the first time all of the authors appeared together on stage in 20 years.

The videos are part of the UND Writers conference Collection, which is preserved in the UND Chester Fritz Library at The UND Writers Conference celebrated its 42nd year in 2011.

The videos capture March 18-22, 1974, when the ideas of some of the most influential members of the “Beat Generation” were recorded for posterity, including nearly 10 hours of video, which the University is making freely available online for scholarly, educational, and historical purposes. The footage was recently discovered in a box of 28 mostly unlabeled film reels donated to the University by former UND Writers Conference director and professor of English Dr. James McKenzie. A grant from the National Endowment for the Arts allowed for digitization.

The Beat Poets dedicated much of their conversation during the UND conference to passionate discussions of the need to return to the land to reduce energy consumption. In Ginsberg’s words, their time in Grand Forks was dedicated to “talking and biology, politics, sociology, police state, metaphysics, poetics, farming, advertising, condition, psychology, conditioned fat slobs, America.” He said the topics were “some random suggestions” in an attempt to “prophesy another way of life for America.”

As the footage reveals, during this time “the Beats” repeatedly advocated subsistence farming over agri-business. From the stage, Snyder declared himself “an agrarian” and Orlovsky said he was “a farmer.” Both encouraged the audience to grow their own food rather than buy it from supermarkets. Ginsberg, too, called for de-centralized farming.

Although the topic had been discussed all week, on the last day of the conference, Rexroth, speaking to “the Beats,” pointed out what was obvious to the audience: “You see, you have to realize, you guys, that you’re talking to a bunch of people whose families are farmers.” While the writers described the benefits of going organic, creating compost piles, clearing land, and planting crops with limited machinery, the audience was not swayed by their seemingly romanticized descriptions.

In response, one person, who “grew up in western North Dakota, small town, U.S.A.,” and “spent half of his life working on a farm in the summer,” declared “the American people will be too damn soft to ever be self-sufficient agriculturally again.” The conversations between the audience and the panelists at times became contentious perhaps because many in attendance were first-generation college students who were pursuing a degree with one goal in mind: getting off the farm.

The writers also discussed America’s dependence on fossil fuels and promoted the use of renewable resources, such as solar and wind power, to reduce pollution. Again, the North Dakotans in attendance were well versed on the subject. As the panelists learned, the state had 20 percent of the world’s lignite coal. When asked, the writers described the potential environmental and social impact of the increased strip-mining of coal in western North Dakota, which was then being developed.

$15,000 grant will support the 43rd annual UND Writers Conference and The UND Writers Conference Digital Project

The University of North Dakota Writers Conference has been recommended for a grant of $15,000 to support the 43rd annual UND Writers Conference “humanimal” and the preservation of archival footage from past conferences. The UND Writers Conference is one of 1,145 not-for-profit national, regional, state, and local organizations recommended for a grant as part of the federal agency’s second round of fiscal year 2011 grants. In total, the Arts Endowment will distribute more than $88 million to support projects nationwide.

An independent agency of the federal government, the National Endowment for the Arts advances artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities. NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman said, “NEA research shows that three out of four Americans participate in the arts. The diverse, innovative, and exceptional projects funded in this round will ensure that Americans around the country continue to have the opportunity to experience and participate in the arts.”

“We are very grateful to have received another grant from the National Endowment for the Arts,” said Dr. Crystal Alberts, assistant professor of English and, along with Dr. Heidi Czerwiec, co-director of the UND Writers Conference. “The funds received from last year’s NEA grant enabled us to digitize approximately 76 hours of footage from the 1970-1975 Conferences, as well as make sure that the 2011 Conference was recorded for posterity.

This year’s NEA will allow us to continue building the UND Writers Conference Digital Collection, particularly 1976-1979, which includes footage from Truman Capote, Tom Wolfe, William S. Burroughs, and Eudora Welty, among others,” said Alberts.

The grant will also help support the 43rd annual UND Writers Conference, “humanimal,” which will take place on UND’s campus March 27-31, 2012. The 43rd annual UND Writers Conference will explore the various ways the human and animal worlds intersect. Czerwiec comments, “animals are a huge part of our world -- as pets, livestock, prey, food -- and the Conference readings and panels will feature literature that discusses these relationships. Speakers for the 2012 Conference include Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley, author of A Thousand Acres and Moo, as well as poet, translator, and Grand Forks native Aaron Poochigian.”

Founded in 1970 by Professor John Little, the UND Writers Conference has been held every year since. While our conference takes place in the heart of the heart of the country, over the past forty plus years, some of the most influential writers of the twentieth and twenty- first century have traveled to Grand Forks to participate, including four Nobel Laureates and twenty-eight Pulitzer Prize winners (Jane Smiley will make twenty-nine). However, the UND Writers Conference mission remains the same: the Conference wishes to create an opportunity for a rigorous exploration of the literary arts, as well as provide a forum for a local and regional conversation about the arts as tied to the community’s everyday lives. All conference events are, and always have been, free and open to the public.

“We firmly believe that the UND Writers Conference is a unique and special event that contributes to the quality of life here in Grand Forks, the Red River Valley, and the state of North Dakota. We are pleased to be recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts and hope to be able to continue our proud tradition for years to come,” Alberts said.

The University of North Dakota

Known as a strong liberal arts university with world recognized professional programs including medicine and other health professions, law, aviation, engineering, and business, the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks enrolls 14,194 students (fall 2010) in 218 fields of study from baccalaureate through doctoral and professional degrees.


1974 UND Writes Conference:

Dr. Crystal Alberts, Co-Director, UND Writers Conference, [email protected]

UND Chester Fritz Library Department of Special Collections, 701-777-4625,

UND Writers Conference:


Peter JohnsonExecutive Associate Vice President for University Relations Media Relations CoordinatorOffice of University Relations264 Centennial Drive Stop 7144Grand Forks, ND 58202-7144701.777.4317 | 701.777.4616 fax[email protected]