Since the 1950’s, drugs have increasingly become a part of everyday life, and the literature since that time has reflected this social change. Most prominent in celebrating the role of marijuana, heroin, and psychedelic drugs in defining individuality in the 1950’s were the Beat generation writers, a listing of whom includes William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg. Burroughs’ drug addiction and exploration provided the material for Junkie (1953) and Naked Lunch (1959); The Wild Boys (1971) celebrates an outlaw posse of hashish users at the close of the twentieth century. Kerouac’s On the Road (1957), filled with tales of freedom and drug use, glorified by the underground counterculture, became the scripture for the Beat generation. Ginsberg expressed the terrible side of the world extolled by Kerouac in works including Howl (1956) and “Lysergic Acid.”
The 1960’s psychedelic era produced works dealing with drugs and their possibilities for transcendental or soul-changing experiences. Noteworthy authors include Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey, Tom Wolfe, and Carlos Castaneda. Leary’s The Psychedelic Experience (1964) presents a guide to combining LSD use and Eastern, particularly Tibetan, philosophy. His High Priest (1968) and The Politics of Ecstasy (1968) both deal with hallucinogens and religious experiences. Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962) presents an examination of institutional drug use and psychological therapy in fictional form. Narcotics and the 1960’s hippie generation are the subject of Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968). Castaneda gives an account of hallucinogenic drug usage and Southwest Indian teachings in his Don Juan series, beginning with The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge (1968).
The 1970’s and 1980’s produced some work dealing with drugs, but the heyday was mostly over. Notable in this last period are Hunter S. Thompson, Jay McInerney, and Bret Easton Ellis. Thompson, writing from the late 1960’s onward, combines fact and fiction in his tales of massive drug usage in, among others, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream (1971), Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72 (1973), and The Great Shark Hunt (1979). McInerney describes cocaine usage among the East Coast yuppies of the 1980’s in Bright Lights, Big City (1984). Ellis’ work deals with drug usage among college students and dropouts on the West Coast of the United States in Less Than Zero (1985), and on the East Coast of the United States in The Rules of Attraction (1987).