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Jack Kerouac
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Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac (March 12, 1922 - October 21, 1969) was a US novelist, writer, artist, and one of the most prominent members of the beat movement in literature. Kerouac's novels center around postwar American characters and their experiences. Kerouac was not just a pop artist, but a reactionary to his contemporaries.

Kerouac spent his life in the American landscape and with the people that fill them. Faced with the changing America, Kerouac sought to find his place in this climate and tried to effect a change. Kerouac's rejected the popular culture of the fifties that celebrated growing consumerism, the new suburban lifestyle, the social resistance to Communism, and the atomic age.

Table of contents
1 Biography
2 Published works
4 Further readings
5 External Links


Early years

Born Jean-Louis Kerouac to a French-Canadian family in Lowell, Massachusetts. At an early age, he was heartbroken when his elder brother Gerard died, later prompting him to write the book Visions of Gerard.

His athletic prowess led him to be a star on his local football team, and this achievement earned him a scholarship to Columbia University in New York. It was in New York that Kerouac met the people whom he was to journey around the world with, and return to write about: the so-called Beat Generation, which included people like Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady and William S. Burroughs. After breaking his leg and arguing with his coach, the football scholarship did not pan out, so Kerouac left to join the Merchant Marine.

Later years

In between his sea voyages, Kerouac stayed in New York with his friends from Columbia. He started writing his first novel, called The Town and the City, which was published in 1950 and earned him some respect as a writer.

Kerouac wrote constantly, despite not publishing another novel until 1957 when On the Road, published by Viking Press, finally appeared in print. This book dealt with his roadtrip adventures across the United States and into Mexico with Neal Cassady by its main protagonist, Sal Paradise. The novel is often described as the defining work of the post-war jazz-, poetry-, and drug-affected Beat Generation. He wrote it in an extended session of "spontaneous prose", or stream of consciousness, which created a style of writing entirely of Kerouac's own making. He was hailed in some circles as a major US writer, and reluctantly as the spokesman for the Beat Generation.

His friendship with Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, among others, defined a generation. Kerouac also wrote a "Beat" movie titled "Pull My Daisy" in 1958.

Kerouac became part of a trend of people seeking enlightment through Buddhism. He chronicled this, and his meditations with Gary Snyder, in the book "Dharma Bums."

Kerouac died prior to finishing his "Duluoz Legend" project, which exists only  as an incomplete autobiographical manuscript.

Death and afterwards

He died at the age of 47 as a result of a severe alcohol overdose. He lived with and had his finances taken care of by his mother. Kerouac's health had been destroyed by a life of heavy drinking.

In 2001, On the Road was listed as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century by the editorial board of the American Modern Library.

The progressive rock group King Crimson paid tribute to Jack Kerouac and his works with their album "Beat", which contained songs "Neal and Jack and me" and "Satori in Tangier". Also, his book On the Road is referenced in a song by the Rock group Our Lady Peace called "All for You".

A street is named after him in San Francisco.

Books continue to be published that were written by Kerouac, many unfinished by him. A book of his haikus and dreams also were published, giving interesting insight into how his mind worked.

A DVD titled "Kerouac: King of the Beats" features several minutes of his appearance on the William Buckley Show, during Kerouac's later years when alcoholism had taken control. He is seen often incoherent and very drunk.

Published works

Kerouac most familiar work is On the Road. During his years of rejection by publishers, he wrote a number of (autobiographical) books, which he carried in his rucksack on reams of typing paper which he taped together so he did not have to pause to change the paper. These books include:

Other works include prose, poetry, Buddhist writings, and sound recordings. Kerouac writings maintain a sense of urgency while embarking on a journey during which he explores the society surrounding him by mystifying those experiences. Kerouac's writings contained a social and sexual recklessness (and descriptions of quasi-criminal activities) that surprised and upset readers of the time they were published.

There is a book of much of Jack's early shorter works compiled, when he literally was first beginning as a writer, entitled Atop an Underwood. In addition at one point he published his dream journals of the time as well.


"The world that [Kerouac] trembling stepped out into in that decade was a bitter, gray one". -- Michael McClure, San Francisco poet

Kerouac was "locked in the Cold War and the first Asian debacle" in "the gray, chill, militaristic silence, [...] the intellective void [...] the spiritual drabness". -- Michael McClure, San Francisco poet

Further readings

External Links