Name: Jack Kerouac
Born: March 12, 1922 (Lowell, MA)
Died: October 21, 1969 (St. Petersburg, FL)
Seminal Work: On the Road
Relationship to The Beat Generation:
Jack Kerouac, with Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, founded The Beat Generation in 1940s New York City. He was inspired by Jazz music and by the mantra of “first thought, best thought.” His writing reflects a quest for honesty and a mythical approach to ordinary life.
Importance to Literary History:
As one of the founding members of the Beat Generation and arguably its most influential character, Jack Kerouac has a very real place in American literary history. On the Road has appeared on almost every published list of “greatest American novels,” since the 1960s and has become one of the most enduring American novels of the 20th Century.
Jack Kerouac and Automatic Writing:
Kerouac wrote his seminal work in one frantic, frenzied burst that took him three weeks. He had been taking notes for years, in preparation for what would become the novel, but when he actually sat down to write a book – he did it all at once. He termed this particular style, “spontaneous prose” and compared it to his greatest influence, jazz music. Kerouac believed that prose had the ability to capture truths, particularly “the truth of a moment,” but to be faithful to this, the writer could not revise or edit; these corrections, in Kerouac’s opinion, would be like lying – presenting an untrue prose, lacking truth of the moment. This was certainly a new concept, one which publishers were leery of, and it was partly because of this style (and partly because of the book’s content) that it took 6 years for anyone to publish On the Road.
“Jack went to bed obscure and woke up famous.” -Joyce Johnson
Biographical Information & Fun Facts:
“My fault, my failure, is not in the passions I have, but in my lack of control of them.”
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles” (On the Road).
“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple” (The Dharma Bums).
“Happiness consists in realizing its all a great strange dream.”
“I realized these were all the snapshots which our children would look at someday with wonder, thinking their parents had lived smooth, well-ordered lives and got up in the morning to walk proudly on the sidewalks of life, never dreaming the raggedy madness and riot of our actual lives, our actual night, the hell of it, the senseless emptiness” (On the Road).
“Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry.”
“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road” (On the Road).