Writers Workshop Wednesday: Jack Kerouac

Considered one of the Godfathers of the Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac delivered his unique voice and perspectives on life to an era that included Allen Ginsberg, Charles Bukowski, Bob Kaufman, and William S. Burroughs.  

It was post-World War II America, and many young people who had fought overseas had returned with no real sense of purpose.  Kerouac captures that wanderlust and rebellious spirit in his writings, most famously in On the Road.  

An avid reader and sports enthusiast at a young age, Kerouac was born in 1922 to immigrant parents.  He spoke French at home and learned English at school.  After a series of tragic events at home, including the death of his older brother, the family’s spiral into poverty, and his father’s alcoholism, Kerouac escaped to New York after graduating from high school.  

A football scholarship got him into Columbia University in 1940, but a broken leg led to him being sidelined, and he dropped out the next year.  After working various odd jobs along the East Coast, Kerouac enlisted with the U.S. Navy in 1943 to help fight in WWII.  His stint only lasted 10 days as he was honorably discharged for having “strong schizoid trends.”

Upon returning to New York, he became friends with two other young men, Allen Ginsburg and William S. Burroughs.  It was through their friendship and writings that the Beat Movement found its origins.

Kerouac began to write novels in the late 1940s, but he wouldn’t achieve any acclaim for his work on a wide scale until 1957 when On the Road was published and received rave reviews.  His other works include Town and Country (his first novel), The Dharma BumsDoctor SaxLonesome TravelerBig Sur, and Desolation Angels.  He also wrote poetry, plays, and spoken work albums.

Sadly, Kerouac died of a “massive abdominal hemorrhage” at the age of 47 in 1969.

Below are interviews with Kerouac, a few videos about the Beat Generation, and Kerouac reading some of his poems and excerpts from his novels.  

Check out Kerouac’s bio HERE.

Learn more about Kerouac and The Beat Museum HERE.

And check out The Kerouac Society HERE.


Back in two weeks with another great writer!

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Book Review Tuesday: On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Years ago, I visited Monterey, Ca, and went to The Beat Museum.  There, I purchased a copy of On the Road by Jack Kerouac, more as a souvenir than anything else.  Over a decade later, I found the book in my collection and decided to give it a read.  

I’m glad I did.

Below is my review:

Long before the comforts and reliability of smart phones, GPS, and 24/7 gas stations, Jack Kerouac took several cross-country journeys with friends that would become the basis of his semi-autobiographical novel, On the Road.  A literary artifact from the dawn of what would become known as the “Beat generation,” On the Road is the tale of Sal Paradise, a free-spirit who travels around North America, detailing his experiences with friends, strangers, poverty, sex, and tea (aka marijuana).  

At times On the Road gets bogged down in minutiae, but the spirit of the time (the late 1940s) and the historical aspect of the novel make it worth reading.  Kerouac delivers an interesting travelogue that gives us insight into how society was in this period of American history, warts and all.  While Sal probably isn’t the most reliable of narrators, his thoughts and feelings about his experiences are more than likely 100% Kerouac.

The edition I read has a wonderful introduction and analysis by Ann Charters, a professor and Beat generation scholar.  If your copy has this included, I highly recommend you read it before you delve into the book.  The intro provides some context to the story, and also identifies who the real people were fictionalized in On the Road

A word of warningOn the Road is a product of its time, and does contain depictions and language regarding minority groups that some may find bothersome. 

On the Road is a piece of American literary history and a book I definitely recommend.

Learn more about The Beat Museum (now located in San Francisco) HERE.  

Have you read On the Road or other work by Kerouac?  Leave a comment and let me know!