Jack Kerouac was born in Lowell (MA) Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac, and in spite of his fancy name, his French-Canadian parents had to emigrate to Massachusetts to find work. When he died in St Petersburg (FL) 47 years later, Kerouac’s total estate amounted to under 100 dollars. Yet he’ll be immortal as long as books are read, if mainly for just one of his several works: ‘On the Road’, based on his hitchhiking trips around the US.
Kerouac went to study at Columbia in New York on an athletics scholarship, but he quickly joined a group of iconoclastic young poets who later became known as the Beat Generation. Kerouac’s ‘Spontaneous Prose’, an improvised, almost jazz-like style of writing later better known as ‘Stream of Consciousness’, inspired other writers and artists such as Bob Dylan (although Truman Capote famously dissed the technique by saying “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”)
His desire to break free of social mores and restrictions intertwined with his experimentation with drugs – as an ‘expert’ in both, he became some sort of spiritual guru to the 1960s counterculture. He is both referred to as ‘King of the Beats’ as well as Father of the Hippies.
In 1942, Kerouac joined the Merchant Marine and a year later, the US Navy. After the war, he was discharged on psychiatric grounds. He took to ‘drifting’ around the country, alternated with homely periods at home with his mom at Ozone Park in Queens, NYC.
In three weeks in April 1951, Kerouac wrote ‘On the Road’, the book that would make him famous. But only belatedly: the book was first published six years later, and only after severe revisions demanded by the publisher, Viking Press. To mark the 50th anniversary of first publishing, an uncensored edition will be published this year.
In ‘On the Road’, Kerouac tells the thinly veiled autobiographical tale of his trips through the US and Mexico with his friend Neal Cassady (‘Dean Moriarty’ in the book; Kerouacs narrator is called ‘Sal Paradise’). Interestingly, Kerouac never had a driver’s licence until he was 34 (in 1956), meaning that in the time of the ‘On the Road’ trips – to quote the title of a song by the band Guided by Voices – ‘Kerouac Never Drove, So He Never Drove Alone’.
This map was found at the Kerouac Corner of a website called www.wordsareimportant.com. This map , apparently from one of Kerouac’s own diaries, shows the itinerary of a trip from July to October 1947, much of which would later serve as the backdrop for ‘On the Road’:
New York City
New York City