Jean-Louis "Jack" Kerouac (March 12, 1922 – October 21, 1969) was an American writer associated with The Beat Generation and best known for writing On the Road, an autobiographical novel describing Kerouac's travels with Neal Cassady. He also wrote The Dharma Bums, which details his adventures with fellow writer Gary Snyder.
Kerouac had a fascinating life. Born into a close-knit Catholic family of French descent who'd emigrated to Lowell, Massachusetts from Quebec, this important figure of literature in the English language came to the language rather late: his family spoke the Joual dialect of French, he didn't learn English until he was six, and wasn't confident speaking English until high school (it was noted that he had a heavy accent in his teen years).note He also wrote a few short stories in his native tongue, which have received increased attention since it was discovered that Kerouac had originally planned to write On the Road in French and actually produced an abortive manuscript of it before producing the famous version.
He attended Columbia University on a football scholarship, but later dropped out, and it was at Columbia where he first met fellow Beat notable Allen Ginsberg. After stints in the Naval Reserve and Merchant Marine he settled in New York City and struggled to establish a writing career, with his first published novel, 1950's The Town and the City (credited to John Kerouac) being a bit of an Acclaimed Flop. On the Road, which he wrote in 1951, was rejected by numerous publishers before Viking Press finally agreed to publish an edited version in 1957. Released to acclaim and controversy, Kerouac became a major name overnight, hailed as the figurehead of the Beat movement. Maintaining a prodigious output while sustaining a reputation as a cult figure, Kerouac never quite replicated the popular success of On the Road, and his tumultuous personal life eventually took its toll on him. Despite being a countercultural hero, he was critical of the hippie movement in The '60s, and personally fell out with many of his Beat colleagues. He died at age 47 of an internal hemorrhage, aggravated by his lifelong alcohol usage.
Works by Jack Kerouac with their own pages:
- On the Road (1957)
- Pull My Daisy (1959) — short film based on Kerouac's play Beat Generation; Kerouac wrote the screenplay and starred
Other works by Jack Kerouac provide examples of:
- Artistic License – Religion: A few major figures in American Buddhism criticized The Dharma Bums for what they felt was Kerouac's superficial understanding of the religion. Kerouac's friends Philip Whalen — a Zen monk — and Gary Snyder — his mentor in Buddhism — disagreed (though the latter had other criticisms of the book.)
- Author Appeal: The Dharma Bums is the product of Kerouac's profound fascination with Buddhism in his early career.
- Author Avatar: Pretty much every protagonist in everything Kerouac ever published. Sal Paradise from On the Road is Kerouac. Kerouac uses avatars in virtually all of his novels, although for legal reasons, the names are changed from book to book. As a result, in The Dharma Bums, Kerouac is named Ray Smith, and in The Subterraneans, he is named Leo Percepied. Virtually every other character is these books is a thinly-disguised avatar of one of Kerouac's friends or some prominent Beat Generation figure as well.
- Beige Prose: Most of the books not written in his spontaneous prose style end up being this.
- Christianity is Catholic: Despite his famed dabblings in other lifestyles, Kerouac always considered himself fundamentally Catholic, and his biographers note that his work is steeped in Catholicism. Keruoac even said that On the Road "was really a story about two Catholic buddies roaming the country in search of God. And we found him."
- Darker and Edgier: And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks is a gritty, violent, visceral true crime novel, a stark contrast to his earlier, more romantic literary efforts. In general, this is true of all of his books from Desolation Angels onward.
- Food Porn: It's not unusual to find long, effusive paragraphs of Jack fantasizing about food. Eggs and coffee appear to be his favorite.
- Green-Eyed Monster: Towards Gore Vidal, as expressed by the character Arial Lavalina in The Subterraneans
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Inverted; Almost all of the characters in Kerouac's books were thinly-veiled versions of his friends and acquaintances, many of whom became famous authors and cultural figures in their own right. Reading his books in retrospect becomes a who's-who of major figures in 60s literature.
- Perspective Flip: And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks is written this way, alternating perspectives between the two main characters every chapter.
- Politically Incorrect Hero: The word choice of Kerouac's protagonist-narrators is characteristically...less than sensitive. This is especially true of Jack Duluoz, who features in several of his novels.
- Real Dreams are Weirder: Book of Dreams is more or less just a published dream journal. The result is 200 pages worth of Mind Screw.
- Roman à Clef: The vast majority of Kerouac's novels are simply retellings of things that happened to him and the other Beat writers, with the names changed (and some parts taken out, as the first draft of On the Road reveals). On The Road and Visions of Cody focus on his best friend Neal Cassady, The Dharma Bums is about his adventures with Gary Snyder, And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks (written with William S. Burroughs) was about a mutual friend who murdered a lover, and so forth. It became so well-known that the publisher insisted he use different character names in each book to prevent legal trouble for anyone involved, but they can still be decoded easily.
- Spell My Name with an S: Owing to a complicated immigration history, Jack's name has been variously spelled Kerouack, Kirouac, and Kerouac. The latter was his preferred spelling, which stuck due to it being the spelling he published under.
- Wall of Text: The result of Kerouac's signature "spontaneous prose" writing style, where he would just write continuously on a scroll of paper without any pause for hours at a time, fueled by coffee and amphetamines. Using this method, he could produce full-length novels in a couple of days at most, but they were virtually unreadable before an editor got a hold of them.
- Write Who You Know: Kerouac insisted that he didn't write novels, he wrote " true life stories simply about what happened to people I knew." This actually caused some problems for his friends, given the sometimes scandalous nature of the stories he told.