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Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac leans closer to a radio to hear himself on a broadcast, 1959. (John Cohen/Getty Images)

Major works:
On the RoadThe Dharma BumsTristessaMexico City BluesBig SurVisions of Cody

With the publication in 1957 of his novel On the Road, Jack Kerouac found himself cast unwillingly as leader of a movement and spokesman for his generation. His status as a Beat icon has continued to make him an emblem of romantic rebellion while sometimes obscuring the extent of his literary ambitions and the years of disciplined experiment that went into the creation of what Allen Ginsberg called his “spontaneous bop prosody.” In works as varied as the ecstatic poem cycle Mexico City Blues, the formally adventurous Visions of Cody, the deeply nostalgic Visions of Gerard, and the restlessly observant Lonesome Traveler, he perpetually sought to open up new channels of expression while continuing to see all his writing as part of “one vast book… one enormous comedy, seen through the eyes of poor Ti Jean (me)… the world of raging action and folly and also of gentle sweetness seen through the keyhole of his eye.”

“I don’t think it’s possible to proceed further in America without first understanding Kerouac’s tender brooding compassion for bygone scene & personal Individuality oddity’d therein. By passing Kerouac one bypasses the mortal heart, sung in prose vowels; the book a giant mantra of appreciation and adoration of an American man, one striving heroic soul.”
—Allen Ginsberg on Visions of Cody

“Though he has already created a larger body of work than any of his contemporaries, to most people his name summons up the image of a carefree do-nothing sensation-hunter. Though that body of work creates a dense, personal world that is as richly detailed as any such American literary world since Faulkner, he is continually thought to be nothing but the poet of the pads and the bard of bebop. And though he is a prose innovator in the tradition of Joyce, whose stylistic experiments will bear comparison with any but the most radical avant-gardists of the century, he is constantly ticketed as some slangy, hitchhiking Jack London, bring a whiff of marijuana and truck exhaust into the lending libraries.”
—John Clellon Holmes

Excerpt from

On the Road

Jack Kerouac

So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.

Read a passage from On the Road by Jack Kerouac
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