A Beat poet, and founder of the journal Beatitude with Allen Ginsberg and others, poet Bob Kaufman was born in New Orleans in 1925 to a German Jewish father and a black Catholic mother. As a young man, he joined the U.S. Merchant Marine, briefly studied at the New School in New York, and moved to San Francisco, where he associated with such writers as Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Ginsberg.
Kaufman was a jazz-inspired street poet who adhered to an oral tradition—he proclaimed his poetry in coffee houses and on the streets, seldom writing his poems down. City Lights Bookstore originally published his poems. In addition to the broadsides Abomunist Manifesto (1959), Second April (1959), and Does the Secret Mind Whisper? (1960), his works were collected in Solitudes Crowded with Loneliness (1965), The Golden Sardine (1967), and The Ancient Rain: Poems 1956–1978 (1981); they were republished in Cranial Guitar: Selected Poems by Bob Kaufman (1996). His work has been translated into French, and he gained a strong following in France.
During an eventful, sometimes troubled life, Kaufman ran afoul of the law, was imprisoned, underwent electroshock therapy, and suffered from drug addiction. He was included in the movie The Flower Thief (1960) about the San Francisco Beat movement. When John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Kaufman took a personal vow of silence and did not speak until the end of the Vietnam War. He eventually became a practicing Buddhist. He died in 1986.