Lawrence Lipton was born in Lodz, Poland, on October 10, 1898, and brought to America in 1903 by his father, Abraham Lipton, who had saved enough money to send for his wife, Rose, and their three small children. The family moved to Chicago where Abraham Lipton had close friends and relatives who could help the family establish themselves in their new homeland.
Lipton was fourteen when his father died. He later wrote that he was "compelled to work for a living from then on; forced to fight a running battle against time for my education (time stolen from sleep, from play, from work--and consequently from food very often), and lacking the kind of life continuity and integrated personality that gives a man a firm sense of purpose and direction."
Lipton tried several careers during his long lifetime. First he thought of himself as a graphic artist, and he won an award for illustrating the Haggadah (the Passover prayer book). Then he turned his hand to journalism and became a regular contributor to the Sunday feature section of the New York Jewish newspaper, Forverts. Next he became publicity director of a large movie theater. In the 1920s Lipton was part of the circle of writers in Chicago including Ben Hecht, Carl Sandburg, Edgar Lee Masters, Sherwood Anderson, and Harriet Monroe.
In the early 1920s he married his childhood sweetheart, Dorothy Omansky, who died several years later. His second wife, Betty Weinberg, gave him his only son, James Lipton. Divorced from Betty in the late 1930s, Lipton married Georgiana Randolph Craig, with whom he coauthored twenty-two books of mystery fiction during the late 1930s and early 1940s under the pseudonym of Craig Rice. After this marriage ended in divorce, Lipton married Nettie Esther Brooks in 1948.
In addition to his earlier mystery fiction and articles for such magazines as Atlantic Monthly, Chicago Review, and Quarterly Review of Literature, he wrote two "serious" novels, Brother, The Laugh is Bitter (1942) and In Secret Battle (1944), and a book of poetry, Rainbow at Midnight (1955), which was a Book Club for Poetry selection.
The Holy Barbarians, the book that linked Lipton to the Beat writers, was published in 1959, when he was sixty-one years old. The cast of characters in the book included such "name" personalities as the writers Allen Ginsberg, Kenneth Rexroth, Kenneth Patchen, Stuart Z. Perkoff, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Dylan Thomas. When Lipton wrote The Holy Barbarians he had settled in Venice, California, where a bohemian community flourished beside the Pacific Ocean, near the beach outside Los Angeles. Lipton's home became an informal center for the arts, with Lipton functioning as both teacher and catalyst. In the years immediately after the mid-1950s poetry renaissance in the San Francisco Bay Area, poets, writers, and artists often went down the coast to visit Lipton. For Lipton, poetry readings were at the heart of the Beat experience in Venice, helping to explain "the alienation of the hipsters from the squares." He stated that "when the barbarians appear on the frontier of a civilization it is a sign of a crisis in that civilization. If the barbarians come, not with weapons of war but with songs and ikons of peace, it is a sign that the crisis is one of a spiritual nature."
In Venice, Lipton had been associated with the movement to restore poetry as a vocal art long before the Beats became famous. "The printed poem is to the poem what the score is to a piece of music," he wrote in his essays "Poetry and the Vocal Tradition" and "Youth Will Serve Itself" in the Nation in April and November 1956.
Lipton began experimenting with poetry and jazz in 1956. Working first with Shelly Manne, then briefly with Jimmie Giuffre and Buddy Collette, he perfected his concepts of the integration of poetry with jazz music. In September 1957, Benny Carter and Jack Hampton, after hearing Lipton in a discussion about poetry and jazz with Kenneth Rexroth on a Los Angeles-San Francisco hookup on CBS radio, called on him to produce and direct a series of poetry-and-jazz concerts. The result was the First West Coast Poetry and Jazz Festival, dedicated to Dylan Thomas and playing to capacity audiences during its two-week run in early December. For these concerts Lipton drew upon the musical talents of Shorty Rogers, Bill Holman, Barney Kessel, Paul Horn and the poetry of Kenneth Rexroth, Stuart Z. Perkoff and several other young Venice poets. His own poems were included as well. In 1958 Lipton produced "Jazz Canto", released by World Pacific Records.
After The Holy Barbarians, Lipton turned to the sexual revolution. He believed it to be a determined move on the part of millions of people to restructure the very process of orgasm itself. In The Erotic Revolution (1965), he recommended: "Repeal all the laws regulating pre-marital sex; Make legal marriage optional; Repeal all laws making homosexuality illegal; Repeal all the so-called 'unnatural laws' regarding the sexual act; Make contraceptives legal everywhere and free to low income groups; Make all abortions legal and free to those unable to pay."
Published in dozens of literary magazines and journals, his poetry and prose gathered together certain central themes that related to the social responsibility of the artist to participate in the formation of a society that was more than a collective. As a visionary, Lipton wanted the new society to be rational, functional, and responsible to the deepest needs of the human soul.
During the last years of his life, Lipton wrote a long-running column of political commentary in the Los Angeles Free Press called "Radio Free America".
Lipton died in Los Angeles on July 9, 1975.
Written by: Nettie Lipton. From the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 16: The Beats: Literary Bohemians in Postwar America. Edited by Ann Charters, University of Connecticut. Gale Research, 1983. pp. 352-356.