Although it lasted only twenty-three years (1933-1956) and enrolled fewer than 1,200 students, Black Mountain College was one of the most fabled experimental institutions in art education and practice. It launched a remarkable number of the artists who spearheaded the avant-garde in the America of the 1960s. It boasted an extraordinary curriculum in the visual, literary, and performing arts as evidenced by some of the artists and teachers listed here:
Its art teachers included Anni and Josef Albers, Eric Bentley, Ilya Bolotowsky, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Buckminster Fuller, Lyonel Feininger, Franz Kline, Walter Gropius and Robert Motherwell. Among their students were John Chamberlain, Kenneth Noland, Robert Rauschenberg, Dorothea Rockburne, James Bishop, Ruth Asawa, Stan Vanderbeek, Kenneth Snelson, and Cy Twombly.
Among the literature teachers and students were Robert Creeley, Fielding Dawson, Ed Dorn, Robert Duncan, Paul Goodman, Francine du Plessix Gray, Hilda Morley, Charles Olson, M. C. Richards, Arthur Penn, and John Wieners. Guest lecturers included Albert Einstein, Clement Greenberg, and William Carlos Williams.
In 1950, Charles Olson published his seminal essay, Projective Verse. In this, he called for a poetry of "open field" composition to replace traditional closed poetic forms with an improvised form that should reflect exactly the content of the poem. This form was to be based on the line, and each line was to be a unit of breath and of utterance. The content was to consist of "one perception immediately and directly (leading) to a further perception". This essay was to become a kind of de facto manifesto for the Black Mountain poets. One of the effects of narrowing the unit of structure in the poem down to what could fit within an utterance was that the Black Mountain poets developed a distinctive style of poetic diction (e.g. "yr" for "your").
In addition to Olson, the poets most closely associated with Black Mountain include Larry Eigner, Robert Duncan, Ed Dorn, Paul Blackburn, Hilda Morley, John Wieners, Joel Oppenheimer, Denise Levertov, Jonathan Williams and Robert Creeley. Creeley worked as a teacher and editor of the Black Mountain Review for two years, moving to San Francisco in 1957. There, he acted as a link between the Black Mountain poets and the Beats, many of whom he had published in the review. Also, the appearance in 1960 of Donald Allen's anthology The New American Poetry 1945-1960 (which divides the poets included in its pages into various schools) was crucial: it established a legacy and promoted the influence of the Black Mountain poets worldwide.
Apart from their strong interconnections with the Beats, the Black Mountain poets influenced the course of later American poetry via their importance for the poets later identified with the Language School. They were also important for the development of innovative British poetry since the 1960s, as evidenced by such poets as Tom Raworth and J. H. Prynne. Modern projectivist poets include Charles Potts.