Gregory Corso was born on March 26, 1930 to young Italian immigrants in New York City's Greenwich Village. His childhood was turbulent and unsettled at best. His mother returned to Italy a year after his birth, and he spent much of his formative years without much nurturance from either parent, living in various orphanages, foster homes, reform schools, and on the streets.
At the age of twelve, Corso endured a month in prison while awaiting trial for selling stolen goods, but he was eventually acquitted. Following this ordeal, which was particularly hard on him, he was hospitalized under psychiatric observation at Bellevue Hospital for three months. At sixteen, he landed in jail again for robbery and was sentenced to three years at the Clinton State Prison. During his stay there, he compensated for his lack of a traditional education by frequenting the prison library where he discovered the works of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Arthur Rimbaud, among others, and began writing his own poetry.
After his release from Clinton State Prison, Corso traveled across the country working at a series of odd jobs while continuing to write poetry. He met Allen Ginsberg at a bar in Greenwich Village in 1950, a chance encounter that precipitated what was to become a lasting personal and creative relationship. Ginsberg recognized Corso’s talent and the originality of his poetic voice. Through Ginsberg, Corso met and became friends with other writers in Ginsberg's circle, including Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and Neal Cassady, many of whom become not only influential in Corso’s artistic development, but leading figures in the Beat movement of that era. In 1954, Corso moved to Boston where he unofficially attended Harvard University, frequenting its library and reading celebrated works of poetry from the Western Canon, and working on his own writing. That same year, a few of his poems appeared in the Harvard Advocate ; and just a year later, his first book of poetry was published by R. Brukenfeld and underwritten by a group of Harvard and Radcliffe students.
In 1956, Corso moved to San Francisco, where the Beat movement was starting to coalesce and gain wider recognition. As Corso and his fellow Beat poets grew in fame and success, they would often travel together, giving poetry readings and collaborating on other creative projects. Corso traveled throughout the United States and also abroad, often spending long stretches of time in various European countries. In the late 1950s, he lived in Paris, with Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, and others from the Beat community, in a hotel near St. Michel that they christened The Beat Hotel, which became a haven for young expatriate painters, writers and musicians. Around this time, he also traveled to Tangier, along with Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky and Kerouac, to assist Burroughs in an (ill-fated) first attempt to edit fragments of text which were to become Burrough’s masterpiece, The Naked Lunch.
Corso authored more than 20 books of poetry, including: The Vestal Lady on Brattle (1955); Gasoline (1958); Bomb (1958); The Happy Birthday of Death (1960); Long Live Man (1962); The Mutation of the Spirit (1964); Elegaic Feelings American (1970); Earth Egg (1974); Wings, Wands, Windows (1982); and Mindfield (1989). His prose works include the novel The American Express (1961) and the play In This Hung-up Age. He also was an accomplished painter and illustrator.
Corso rarely held down a regular job nor did he settle down and establish long-term roots in any one place for most of his life. He worked at a number of odd jobs, was a reporter for the Los Angeles Examiner, served as a merchant seaman, and taught writing at various American universities including New York University and the State University of New York at Buffalo.
Corso was a heroin addict. At times he struggled financially and periodically sold some of his notebooks of poetry just to sustain his drug habit and survive. He was married three times, fathered three daughters and two sons, and was romantically linked with a number of other women, including Laura Boss, an award-winning poet, and founder and editor of the poetry magazine, Lips.
Corso died of prostate cancer on January 17, 2001, in Robbinsdale, Minnesota.