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Kerouac, Jean Louis (1922–1969)

American writer who coined the term "Beat Generation" to describe the restless, discontent group of young intellectuals in the 1950s. Born in Lowell, Massachusetts, on 12 March 1922, Jean Louis "Jack" Kerouac attended Catholic parochial schools and the Horace Mann School in New York City before winning a scholarship to Columbia University in 1940.

Kerouac soon left Columbia to experience a wide variety of jobs, places, and experiences. Throughout his life he often returned to Lowell, where he lived with his mother, who supported him financially. In 1942 Kerouac again briefly attended Columbia, his nearby apartment becoming a meeting place for many promising young intellectuals, including William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. While Kerouac became the Beat movement's main novelist, Ginsberg went on to become its chief poet.

Kerouac was for a time in the merchant marine. He joined the U.S. Navy in 1943 but was given a psychiatric discharge after several months. During much of 1943–1950 he traveled throughout the United States and Mexico working a variety of jobs and spending time in Lowell, where he wrote a book about his boyhood, The Town and the City. Its publication in 1950 earned him literary recognition.

Kerouac had already begun a new book using a more spontaneous process that eschewed the customary practice of writing. Seeking to capture the spontaneity and emotions of his 1943–1950 wanderings, he bought twenty-foot rolls of art paper, taped the ends together, and over a three-week span furiously typed—without editing—until he believed that he was finished. The publication of this work, On the Road, in 1957 led to Kerouac being heralded as a major new American writer. His writing style might best be described as a purposeful stream of consciousness. His writings were especially influential among the young and inspired many to drop out of established society and abandon the pursuit of material wealth.

Kerouac's next novel, The Dharma Bums (1958), described the years between finishing On the Road and its publication. At this point, Kerouac reportedly had six more novels already written, including The Subterraneans, Doctor Sax, and Maggie Cassidy, published in quick succession during 1958–1959. They drew praise for their freshness and criticism for their seeming randomness.

The last decade of Kerouac's life was characterized by hard drinking and fast living, but the author did write other books, including Desolation Angels (1966) and Satori in Paris (1967). Kerouac died in St. Petersburg, Florida, on 21 October 1969.

Spencer C. Tucker


Further Reading
Charters, Ann. Kerouac: A Biography. New York: St. Martin's, 1987.; Gifford, Barry. Jack's Book: An Oral Biography of Jack Kerouac. New York: St. Martin's, 1978.; McNally, Dennis. Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation, and America. New York: Random House, 1997.; Nicosia, Gerald. Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac. New York: Grove, 1983.
 

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