Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac was an American novelist, writer, poet, artist, and member of the "Beat Generation." Kerouac is now considered to be one of America`s most important authors. His best-known works are On the Road, published in 1957, and The Dharma Bums, released in 1958.

Birth and youth

Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac, later nicknamed Jack, was born on March 12, 1922, in Lowell, Massachusetts, to Leo and Gabrielle Kerouac. Jack`s parents had emigrated from Quebec. He had an elder brother, Gerard, and an elder sister, Caroline. He was attached to Gerard and was devastated when he died at the age of nine, from complications of rheumatic fever. At home, Jack`s family spoke Québécois French; he did not learn English until he was six years old.

Jack was educated in French-speaking Catholic parochial schools until he entered junior high, then he began to learn entirely in English. Jack was a bright student, and once he learned English, he began to read everything he could find. Jack became a football star in high school. He was so talented he won a scholarship to Columbia University in New York City. The scholarship stipulated that Jack had to attend a year at Horace Mann Academy in the Bronx, to complete some math and French classes before beginning college. He entered Columbia in 1940, and began to play football; misfortune struck early in the season when he broke his leg and was benched. The next fall, Jack locked horns with his coach. He quit football and returned to Lowell.

Kerouac joined the U.S. Merchant Marine in 1942. In 1943, he transfered to the U.S. Navy, but was discharged during World War II on psychiatric grounds — the authorities deemed him insane because he did not submit to the authority of his superiors.

The Beat Generation

When Kerouac left the navy, he and his girlfriend, Edie Parker, met up with some of his schoolmates from Columbia: Lucien Carr, writer Allen Ginsberg, writer William S. Burroughs, and Neal Cassady, Kerouac`s companion on his cross-country wanderings in his future novel, On the Road. Those friends became known as the center of the Beat movement. They were influenced by the popular jazz and be-bop music of the time. The term, Beat Generation, was coined by Kerouac during a conversation with the writer John Clellon Holmes, describing his generation as having an attitude of “beatness," or weariness with the world.

In 1944, Kerouac married Parker; however, the union only lasted a few months and they were divorced in 1945. His father died of stomach cancer the same year. Kerouac began work on his first novel, The Town and the City, which was published in 1950.

In 1949, Kerouac, Cassady, and Cassady`s ex-wife Luanne, took a road trip from the East Coast to San Francisco. Kerouac would cross America and Mexico several times in the next decade, sometimes with Cassady driving and sometimes hitchhiking. Those trips inspired Kerouac to write his best-known work, On the Road, which was not published until 1957, following numerous revisions.

In 1950, Kerouac married Joan Haverty. She became pregnant with their daughter, but the couple separated the following year.

The productive years

Over the following few years, Kerouac was at his most productive. He worked on Visions of Cody and Dr. Sax while he was visiting Cassady in San Francisco and Burroughs in Mexico City. In 1953, he wrote Maggie Carney, about a girl he had been in love with since a teenager. He also wrote The Subterraneans. Despite his productivity, Kerouac`s last published work was Town and City, in 1950.

In 1955, Kerouac traveled alone to Mexico, then became interested in Buddhism. He composed a book of poetry entitled Mexico City Blues and began the novel Tristessa, about a woman he had met south of the border. In early 1956, he began work on other novels, including Visions of Gerard, about his older brother’s death; The Scripture of the Golden Eternity, and Old Angel Midnight.

Finally, when his book, On the Road, was published in 1957, Kerouac began to taste fame. The novel was handsomely successful, becoming the spokesman of the Beat generation. Fans adored him, while critics derided him as an advocate of the rebelliousness and restlessness of the Beat generation.

Kerouac wrote The Dharma Bums as a follow-up to On the Road. Some of his earlier works were published as well. He joined his Beat friends and began to read poetry and other readings at New York City clubs. He wrote columns for magazines as well, including; Playboy, Swank, Holiday, Escapade and Esquire.

Addictions

Kerouac had battled problems with alcoholism and other drugs over the years, and the problem increased with his new-found fame. Critics denounced him for his peculiar form of writing as well as being a proponent of a lifestyle he did not necessarily advocate.

In 1961, Kerouac moved to Bixby Canyon in Big Sur, California, where he wrote his final novel, the dark, semi-autobiographical Big Sur. Kerouac remained a devoted son to his mother, and lived with her periodically during his adult years, including the closing years of his life. In 1966, he married Stella Sampas, and the couple moved to St. Petersburg, Florida, to live with his mother. His fame started to fade toward the end of his life, and alcoholism had undermined his health as well.

On October 20, 1969, Kerouac died from internal bleeding caused by cirrhosis of the liver; he was 47 years old. His wife and mother held a small wake in St. Petersburg, and another wake in Lowell. His remains rest in the Sampas family plot in Lowell’s Edson Cemetery.

---- Selected Quotes ----

Quotes by Jack Kerouac.

Regarding Revelations
I want to work in revelations, not just spin silly tales for money. I want to fish as deep down as possible into my own subconscious in the belief that once that far down, everyone will understand because they are the same that far down.
Letter, 1950

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Beat Generation Authors and Poets, including Jack Kerouac
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