American Literature Jack Kerouac
by
Matt Theado
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0126

Introduction

Jack Kerouac (b. 1922–d. 1969) was a novelist and poet whose bestselling novel On the Road is considered an American classic. Born Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac to working-class French-Canadian parents in Lowell, Massachusetts, a mill town that suffered economic difficulties even before the Great Depression, he spoke French as his first language. A standout athlete in high school, Kerouac enrolled in Columbia University in 1940 on a football scholarship. He left Columbia during his sophomore year and served for two years in the Merchant Marine and six months in the Navy before being discharged on medical grounds by reason of “indifferent character.” In the mid- to late 1940s he met Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Neal Cassady, John Clellon Holmes, and other key figures in what became known as the Beat Generation, a phrase Kerouac coined. While he worked on his first published novel, The Town and the City (1950), he traveled extensively across the United States; these travels provided the material for his second and best-known novel, On the Road (1957), the novel that made him famous but also notorious as a countercultural figure, leading to belittlement of his literary skills. He had written six novels before the publication of On the Road made him a celebrity, and these books were brought out quickly after its success. Kerouac drew from experiences in his own adventurous life and from the exploits of his friends; thus, like Jack London, he became as famous for his romantic adventures as for his literary output. Kerouac planned his work—novels, poems, and nonfiction books—as a loosely arranged series that contributed to his life’s story that he called the Duluoz Legend. Their congested publication plus Kerouac’s claim that he composed them quickly, without revision, led Truman Capote to quip that his novels were not writing; they were typewriting. In addition, social observers attacked Kerouac for encouraging an ethic of recklessness and nihilism among young people. Kerouac’s life spiraled into a tragic drunken spree, and he died at age forty-seven of complications resulting from alcoholism. As the years passed, Kerouac has been recognized as an innovative literary artist who developed new styles of expression in prose and poetry, and his development of a “spontaneous prose” style is placed alongside other artistic achievements in the 1950s, such as Jackson Pollack’s “action painting” and Charlie Parker’s bebop jazz. Kerouac remains a popular writer outside the curriculum even as On the Road is regularly assigned in the classroom.

General Overviews

In the late 1950s, Kerouac was a celebrity who appeared on popular television programs and whose characters were caricatured as “beatniks” in popular media. Even before his death in 1969, his popularity had faded as the politically engaged hippies replaced the disengaged beatniks in the public eye. The development of Kerouac’s literary reputation has been a slow process and is far from complete. Hipkiss 1976 is the first book-length treatment to focus on Kerouac’s work, apart from commentary on the Beat Generation hysteria; hampered by a lack of access to Kerouac’s journals, letters, and manuscripts, Hipkiss nonetheless offers serious, close readings. French 1986 brings Kerouac into the Twayne United States Authors series of writers, a solid step toward collegiate academic respectability. Theado 2000, in the Understanding Contemporary American Literature series, builds on Kerouac’s letters and journals in his comprehensive introduction to Kerouac’s works; as is the case with Hipkiss and French, Theado’s discussion and analysis focus on the novels, and each of these three serves as a helpful introduction to Kerouac’s work for new readers. For advanced students, Grace 2009 is more academically and intellectually challenging and embraces a broader scope of Kerouac’s work. Giamo 2000 is similar in thematic approach to Grace 2009 but less steeped in the critical theory that might deter nonacademic readers.

  • French, Warren. Jack Kerouac: Novelist of the Beat Generation. Boston: Twayne, 1986.

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    French, an American studies professor well known for his books on Steinbeck and Salinger, offers an excellent guide to Kerouac’s life and novels that avoids both hagiography and critical putdowns. Out of print but available in libraries.

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  • Giamo, Ben. Kerouac, the Word and the Way: Prose Artist as Spiritual Quester. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2000.

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    Counters the popular claims that Kerouac was a hedonistic sensation-seeker with extensive, insightful analyses of how Kerouac’s spiritual paths (Catholicism and Buddhism) influenced his novels’ themes and styles throughout his career. Includes thematically linked discussion of most of Kerouac’s novels.

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  • Grace, Nancy. Jack Kerouac and the Literary Imagination. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

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    Wide-ranging study explores Kerouac’s fiction, poetry, religious writing, journals, and correspondence. Centers on Kerouac’s religious and spiritual motifs and figures his Duluoz Legend as a “wisdom quest.” Aimed at readers with graduate study background.

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  • Hipkiss, Robert. Jack Kerouac: Prophet of the New Romanticism. Lawrence: Regents of Kansas, 1976.

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    Hipkiss’s introductory-level book, as its title suggests, presents Kerouac as a Romantic writer, influential in shifting American mid-century literary trends. Out of print but available in libraries.

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  • Theado, Matt. Understanding Jack Kerouac. Understanding Contemporary American Literature. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2000.

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    A book-by-book approach to Kerouac’s novels in the order in which he composed them, tracing the writer’s artistic development. Background drawn from letters and journals buttresses biographical criticism and analytical close-reading.

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Beat Generation Overviews

Kerouac coined the phrase “beat generation” to describe a segment of the American population who grew up during the Great Depression, endured the Second World War years, and experienced a sense of loss and disaffiliation in the postwar years. Ultimately, Kerouac believed, this loss led to spiritual redemption; subsequently, Kerouac and his acquaintances who developed innovative literary styles to write about their experiences came to be referred to as the Beat Writers, shortened at times to the Beats. Although Kerouac would later disavow his connection to and responsibility for the Beat Generation and the “beatniks”—a pejorative term that corrals a wide range of bohemians and hipsters—his reputation remains nonetheless coupled with this cultural and literary phenomenon that was sensationalized by the popular media in the late 1950s. Thus the numerous volumes that document and analyze the Beat Generation help contextualize Kerouac’s life and work. Charters 1983 is the major work of literary biography in this regard, featuring entries on dozens of writers in the Beat sphere, presenting them in a way ideally suited for newcomers to the Beats. Theado 2003 provides a documentary perspective, whereas Tytell 2006 and Morgan 2010 offer more subjective examinations of their subjects. Parkinson 1961 and Cook 1994 consider the Beats before their academic recognition as serious literary figures, and Foster 1992 is a primer of Beat literature that is particularly appropriate for undergraduate college courses. Watson 1995 is an alternative to these studies, a stylistic production that presents a visual experience rather than a straightforward, traditionally laid-out text.

  • Charters, Ann, ed. The Beats: Literary Bohemians in Postwar America. Vols. 16 and 17. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, 1983.

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    Academically grounded and engagingly constructed. Photographs, biographical information, bibliographies, and critical perspectives illuminate the lives and work of writers associated with the Beat Generation. See George Dardess’s entry on Kerouac, volume 16 (pp. 278–303) for background on Kerouac’s life, writing, and work.

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  • Cook, Bruce. The Beat Generation: The Tumultuous ’50s Movement and its Impact on Today. New York: Quill, 1994.

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    A journalist, Cook produced the first book documenting the Beat writers. Based largely on interviews and contemporary articles, some facts are incorrect or incompletely rendered, yet Cook establishes the Beats as serious literary figures. Much of the book is devoted to Kerouac; includes an original interview. Originally published in 1971.

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  • Foster, Edward Halsey. Understanding the Beats. Understanding Contemporary American Literature. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1992.

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    Similar in structure to Tytell 2006, this book examines the Beat Generation’s origins, emergence, and influence before devoting individual chapters to Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and William Burroughs.

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  • Morgan, Bill. The Typewriter Is Holy: The Complete, Uncensored History of the Beat Generation. New York: Free, 2010.

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    Concise and helpful; not as detailed as Charters 1983 nor as critically insightful as Tytell 2006. Provides background to readers new to the Beat Generation, while helping more knowledgeable readers by placing Beat figures in juxtaposition: who was with whom, where, and when. Published in paperback in 2011 (Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint).

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  • Parkinson, Thomas, ed. A Casebook on the Beat. Crowell Literary Casebooks. New York: Crowell, 1961.

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    Preceding Cook 1994 by ten years, this anthology is contextualized by contemporary critical perspectives. Includes the most notorious attack on the Beats and Kerouac in particular: “The Know-Nothing Bohemians” by Norman Podhoretz, who condemns the ethos of the Beat Generation writers, finding them to be ill-bred, anti-intellectual, and potentially violent.

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  • Theado, Matt, ed. The Beats: A Literary Reference. New York: Carroll and Graf, 2003.

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    A literary documentary of the Beat Generation that covers general events and trends before focusing on individual writers. Illustrated with photos, book jackets, manuscript facsimiles, and ephemera, this book makes hard-to-find archival items accessible. The Kerouac chapter provides letters, journal entries, reviews, and interviews.

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  • Tytell, John. Naked Angels: Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs. Chicago: Dee, 2006.

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    The first book-length academic analysis of the Beats. Tytell, a professor at Queens College, examines the Beat movement in the context of Cold War politics and new paradigms of personal attitudes toward society, followed by close critical analyses of Burroughs, Kerouac, and Ginsberg. Tytell’s sophisticated examinations assume readers share a comprehensive background. Originally published in 1976.

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  • Watson, Steve. The Birth of the Beat Generation: Visionaries, Rebels, and Hipsters, 1944–1960. New York: Pantheon, 1995.

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    This introduction to the Beat writers sets them in social and historical context. Illustrated with rarely seen photographs, maps, marginalia, and other textual features. Avoiding academic analyses or analytical insight, the book presents details from journals, letters, and contemporary documents to track the movement’s origins.

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Reference Works

Even more than for most literary writers, Kerouac’s readers seem split between two camps: those in the academy and those outside of it. Kerouac’s ongoing popularity does not hinge on the academic output of scholarly critics and bibliographers. His books continue to resonate with (usually) young readers who identify with Kerouac’s spirit, language, and content. Similarly, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s resurgence in the 1950s was not driven by academics; however, as Fitzgerald knew, his reputation would be propelled into posterity by academic respect, and the same holds for Kerouac’s. As of 2015, however, there were no evaluative surveys of criticism, facsimile reproductions of his manuscripts, or encyclopedic reference books. The bibliographical treatment began promisingly but has not been updated in more than thirty years. There are signs, though, that Kerouac scholarship is beginning to gain momentum, as increasing numbers of graduate studies are being done that lead to publications. Also, online sources proliferate; one of the best is Dave Moore’s Character Key; the site is constantly updated as new information becomes available and serves as a model for how comparable projects might be accomplished. Dharma Beat is less detailed than Moore’s site but still helpful. Ann Charters, with Kerouac’s assistance, put together the first Kerouac bibliography in 1966, revised as Charters 1975; it remains the standard bibliography even though it does not include numerous posthumous works published since 1975. Anstee 1994 annotates unauthorized publications that circulated before Kerouac’s publication resurgence, thus complementing Charters 1975. Milewski 1981 contains extensive annotated entries for secondary sources, while Lawlor 1998 includes primary and secondary sources for Kerouac as well as for a wide array of Beat writers. Milewski is especially valuable for those who wish to trace Kerouac’s reception, while Lawlor is more helpful for general academic research and class planning from middle school through the university level. New, updated, preferably online scholarly bibliographies of primary and secondary sources are needed.

Collections of Papers

Kerouac was a meticulous cataloger of his papers, writing in 1966 to bibliographer Ann Charters that he kept “the neatest records you ever saw” (Charters 1975, cited under Reference Works). He used his own thorough cataloging system that archivists now have converted to their standards. The New York Public Library holds by far the most extensive collection; researchers must plan in advance to secure permission from the library to access this collection. The papers in the Ransom Center and Columbia University collections are helpful for more focused needs.

  • Jack Kerouac Collection. 1 box, 3 folders. Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin.

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    Much smaller than the Berg Collection but still important primarily for a journal Kerouac kept while preparing to write On the Road. Also contains galley proofs for The Dharma Bums, Desolation Angels, and Excerpts from Visions of Cody, as well as some correspondence.

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  • Jack Kerouac Papers. 1 box. Archival Collections, Columbia University Libraries, New York.

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    Includes several letters from Kerouac, thirty-five letters from William Burroughs to Kerouac, and galley proofs for Desolation Angels and Tristessa. A finding aid can be accessed online.

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  • Jack Kerouac Papers. Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, New York Public Library.

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    The treasure trove of Kerouac papers. Includes Kerouac’s drafts of novels, stories, poetry, plays, and screenplays, journals, diaries, notebooks, autobiographical and spiritual prose. Also art work and correspondence, publishing contracts, newspaper cuttings, and maps. The collection even includes the tabletop horseracing and baseball games that Kerouac devised. A finding aid can be accessed online.

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Correspondence

Kerouac wrote letters continually from early in his life, of which selections have been published. Kerouac 1996 and Kerouac 2000 amply display Kerouac’s personal and professional interactions and show him to be a conscientious writer who struggled to achieve serious literary recognition. Kerouac and Johnson 2000 focuses on one specific period in Kerouac’s life, when he was in a relationship with Joyce Johnson; this is also the pivotal period when On the Road was published. Johnson is uniquely situated to describe Kerouac’s nature in intimate detail. Kerouac 1994 and Kerouac 1983 are limited to letters to specific but vitally important individuals; Morgan and Stanford 2010 is limited to an exchange between Kerouac and Ginsberg. There is no complete publication of Kerouac’s letters.

  • Kerouac, Jack. Dear Carolyn: Letters to Carolyn Cassady. Edited by Arthur Knight and Kit Knight. California, PA: Unspeakable Visions of the Individual, 1983.

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    Intimate letters from Kerouac to long-time friend and occasional lover, Carolyn Cassady, wife of Neal Cassady. Out of print, but available in some libraries and collections.

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  • Kerouac, Jack. “Letters from Jack Kerouac to Ed White, 1947–68.” Missouri Review 17.3 (1994): 107–160.

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    Ed White was a Columbia College friend who suggested to Kerouac that he “sketch” with words, a technique that Kerouac developed into spontaneous prose. In these letters Kerouac defines his goals as a writer.

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  • Kerouac, Jack. Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters, 1940–1956. Edited by Ann Charters. New York: Penguin, 1996.

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    Wide-ranging correspondence with family, friends, writers, and literary agents and editors. Originally published by Viking in 1995. Introduction and commentary by Ann Charters.

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  • Kerouac, Jack. Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters, 1957–1969. Edited by Ann Charters. New York: Penguin, 2000.

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    Wide-ranging correspondence with family, friends, writers, and literary agents and editors. Originally published in 1999 (New York: Viking).

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  • Kerouac, Jack, and Joyce Johnson. Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in Letters. New York: Penguin, 2000.

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    Exchange of letters details Johnson’s relationship with Kerouac during the years when On the Road was published and became a bestseller. Johnson provides context and insights to Kerouac’s personality in her introduction.

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  • Morgan, Bill, and David Stanford, eds. Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters. New York: Penguin, 2010.

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    Starting from their meeting in 1944 and ending with Kerouac’s death in 1969, these two hundred letters detail artistic development, literary aspirations, and evolving friendship. Essential for understanding the germination and maturation of these two writers and those they influenced.

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Interviews

Although a detailed and confessional chronicler of his life in writing, Kerouac was both a reclusive and recalcitrant interview subject. Berrigan 1999 is an interview Kerouac gave in 1967 when he had an overview of his career. White 1990, Hayes 2005, and Maher 2005 are collections; Maher is the most complete.

Biographies

Kerouac drew from his colorful life in producing his books, so it is natural that readers would be interested in biographies. By 2013, there were twenty book-length biographies of Kerouac; generally speaking, the early ones overrelied on Kerouac’s novelistic treatment of his own life for biographical details, while the later ones might have benefitted from more reliance on critical studies in shaping the way the life and the art merged. Charters 1994, the first biography, originally published in 1973, sheds light on formerly unknown aspects of Kerouac’s life but also has limitations, as Charters lacked access to Kerouac’s papers. Still, Ann Charters established Kerouac’s reputation as a serious writer through her well-written biography, redeeming his reputation as a beatnik and fly-by-the-seat-of-his pants slapdash writer. Charters went beyond biography: her groundbreaking bibliography and editing jobs on various Kerouac projects helped solidify his academic reputation (see Charters 1975, cited under Reference Works; Kerouac 1996 and Kerouac 2000, both cited under Correspondence; and Kerouac 2007b, cited under Collections). Nicosia 1994 is far more detailed than Charters 1983 (cited under Beat Generation Overviews), perhaps overly so for the casual reader, who would instead benefit from the concision of Clark 2001. Johnson 2012 is the first to draw extensively from Kerouac’s archive in the New York Public Library, yet, given its focus on Kerouac’s French-Canadian ethnicity and its relation to his “voice,” would have benefitted from consideration of critical studies. Gifford and Lee 2005 is largely devoid of critical analysis; instead, a candid, emotional portrait emerges. McNally 2003 is the most helpful biography for readers who wish to place Kerouac and his fellow writers into American historical and cultural context. Miles 1998, on the other hand, considers Kerouac with little contextual positioning, focusing more on dispelling the myths that sprang up around his life. Maher 2007 faced the task of producing a Kerouac biography for a market saturated with such books; it is, however, the most updated full-length biography.

  • Charters, Ann. Jack Kerouac. New York: St. Martin’s, 1994.

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    Originally published in 1973, Kerouac’s first full-length biography. Demonstrates his serious commitment to literary art, blending his adventurous life with his literary development and commercial trials. Although marred by various errors of fact (as few archival sources were available to Charters when she wrote), this is a groundbreaking biography, good for new readers. Originally published in 1973 (New York: St. Martin’s).

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  • Clark, Tom. Jack Kerouac. Boston: De Capo, 2001.

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    Clark is a poet who served as poetry editor of the Paris Review (1963–1973). Concise and clearly written, focusing on Kerouac as a writer more than as a social icon, serves as an excellent introduction to readers, though at times this book relies too strongly on Kerouac’s fictionalized, romanticized writing as source. Originally published in 1984 (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovitch).

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  • Gifford, Barry, and Lawrence Lee. Jack’s Book: An Oral Biography. Boston: De Capo, 2005.

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    Collection of interviews with Kerouac’s friends, lovers, and acquaintances, stitched together by Gifford and Lee’s commentary, arranged to bring chronological coherence to his life story. Constructed like a documentary, it presents a sometimes gritty view of travel, writing, and publishing. Contains useful character key and bibliography of Duluoz Legend. Originally published 1978 (New York: St. Martin’s).

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  • Johnson, Joyce. The Voice Is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac. New York: Viking, 2012.

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    Johnson knew Kerouac intimately in the 1950s; she focuses on Kerouac’s childhood, education, and development of language. The first biographer to draw extensively from Kerouac’s unpublished journals, Johnson connects Kerouac’s ethnicity to the development of his literary voice, a process she finds he completed in 1951, where she ends her story.

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  • Maher, Paul. Kerouac: His Life and Work. Lanham, MD: Taylor Trade, 2007.

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    Updated and revised from an earlier version, Maher makes extensive use of Kerouac’s published letters. Extensive details of Kerouac’s life and inclusions of later and unpublished works, with passing regard for analysis or processes of composition.

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  • McNally, Dennis. Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation, and America. Boston: De Capo, 2003.

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    Places Kerouac’s life into cultural context and demonstrates his social influence. Highly readable and helpful for those who wish to view Kerouac and the Beats against the backdrop of their times. Originally published 1979 (New York: Random House).

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  • Miles, Barry. Jack Kerouac: King of the Beats. New York: Holt, 1998.

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    Miles (who also wrote biographies of Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs) examines Kerouac as a cultural icon, rather than as a significant literary artist. To his credit, Miles seeks to differentiate between the man and the legend propagated in his books, yet his goal is to deflate Kerouac’s literary significance. Miles’s castigation of Kerouac’s personality is unbalanced by countering views.

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  • Nicosia, Gerald. Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

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    Extensively researched, based on hundreds of personal interviews as well as Kerouac’s books, journals, and letters. The adjective “exhaustive” is usually attached to descriptions of this book, which is indeed a thoroughly detailed account of Kerouac’s life. Offers brief critical insights to Kerouac’s works. Originally published in 1983 (New York: Grove).

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Personal Reminiscences

A mercurial personality, Kerouac attracted and repelled friends throughout his life. Holmes 1988 presents the view of a fellow writer who knew Kerouac intimately when they were each struggling to develop their craft. Cassady 1990 comes from the perspective of a woman who was married to Neal Cassady, Kerouac’s chief hero and influence, and was intimate with Kerouac himself. Joyce Johnson, like Cassady, shares intimate details about Kerouac and also about women’s place in the bohemian social scene in the 1950s, a scenario matched by Parker 2007 and Weaver 2009. Amram 2002 is less intimate than these others, but since Kerouac’s work closely associates with jazz in theme and style, Amram’s perspective as a musician who performed with Kerouac is insightful.

Journals

Various Kerouac-related periodicals have come and gone over the years. Beat Scene has longevity; Journal of Beat Studies is a refereed academic journal that features new scholarly publications and reviews of Beat-related books.

Primary Texts

Today many of Kerouac’s works are seen as significant literary achievements, yet none have been prepared as standard or critical editions, and their packaging is often as indiscriminate as it was on their initial publications.

Novels

The Town and the City (Kerouac 1983) is Kerouac’s only book that might be defined as a traditional fiction novel. He referred to subsequent books as “true-story novels,” based on personal real-life events, comprising an artistic rendering of his life story, the Duluoz Legend. The haphazard manner of the books’ publication hindered readers’ comprehension of Kerouac’s overall design, a plan that he had defined hazily at best. In later years, Kerouac envisioned his life’s work set in uniform editions with characters’ names standardized throughout, an outcome that is now unlikely. Kerouac 2007b (cited under Collections) organizes Kerouac’s work according to the chronology of the Duluoz Legend, the closest an editor has come to realizing Kerouac’s idea. For purposes of convenience and greater inclusiveness in this bibliography, the novels are arranged in two broad categories: Lowell Novels and Road Novels. Since his resurgence in popularity beginning in the middle 1980s, all of Kerouac’s previously published works are in print, yet texts of Kerouac’s novels remain largely unchanged from their first editions, even where they contain typographical errors; there are no scholarly or authoritative editions. Posthumous works are still being brought out.

Lowell Novels

Throughout his career Kerouac drew from the powerful influences his hometown exerted upon him. He portrayed Lowell, Massachusetts, a working-class mill town on the Merrimac River, as a complex of powerful American idealisms, situating issues as varied as immigration, adolescence, first love, family ties, Catholicism, and faith in the American dream. The Town and the City (Kerouac 1983) begins in Galloway, a fictionalized version of Lowell; Kerouac’s first publication was his attempt to write the Great American Novel, a sweeping family saga that incorporates history and cultural shifts. Subsequently, Kerouac essentially retold the events of The Town and the City in a series of “true-story novels.” Visions of Gerard (Kerouac 1991) is an impressionistic portrait of Kerouac’s brother, Gerard, who died when he was nine and Kerouac was only four. Kerouac imbues the story with Buddhism, an influence of his later years. Doctor Sax (Kerouac 2012a) centers on a flood that inundated Lowell in 1936. Maggie Cassidy (Kerouac 2009) follows chronologically in the Duluoz Legend and concludes with Duluoz leaving Lowell for New York City. Vanity of Duluoz (Kerouac 2012b) completes Duluoz’s break from Lowell, symbolized by the death of his father, likewise the pivotal scene in The Town and the City.

Road Novels

Kerouac is best known for his road novels; On the Road (Kerouac 2002) inspired countless youths to try their hands at hitchhiking and other forms of nonconventional travel. On the Road established the basis of Kerouac’s literary legacy that propelled him to celebrity status in the late 1950s and informs his reputation to this day. That reputation was also formed by the legendary composition process of that novel; Kerouac typed the novel in twenty days on long sheets of paper that he taped together to form a 120-foot long roll. After decades of rumor and myth, an edited version of that typescript was published as On the Road: The Original Scroll (Kerouac 2007). Unfortunately for textual scholars, there is no facsimile version available. After completing On the Road in 1951, Kerouac felt that he had not conveyed the essence of his road adventures with Neal Cassady (fictionalized as Dean Moriarty), and he immediately set out to rewrite the novel, developing a new prose style he deemed suitable for the theme. The result was published as Visions of Cody in 1972 (Kerouac 2012c), considered by many to be Kerouac’s best book and the best example of his spontaneous prose technique. Kerouac saw California as a kind of promised land, and he did some of his finest writing there. The Dharma Bums (Kerouac 1991) introduced many readers to the alternative lifestyles of the West Coast, helping to establish San Francisco as a destination for young hippies in the 1960s; the book also helped to popularize haiku and Buddhism. Even though the biographical events Kerouac used to write The Subterraneans (Kerouac 1994) took place in New York City, his relocation of the story to San Francisco further linked the locale with the Beat Generation. Big Sur (Kerouac 2011) begins in San Francisco and, like The Subterraneans, includes Beat Generation characters and hangouts. Desolation Angels (Kerouac 2012a) begins with meditative musings written during Kerouac’s stint as a firewatcher in Washington state and then covers his reactions upon returning to civilization and his growing fame with other Beat Generation writers.

  • Kerouac, Jack. The Dharma Bums. New York: Penguin, 1991.

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    Written after the commercial success of On the Road, the narrative focuses on Japhy Ryder, Kerouac’s pseudonym for Buddhist, poet, and environmentalist Gary Snyder. Originally published in 1958.

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  • Kerouac, Jack. The Subterraneans. New York: Grove, 1994.

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    Kerouac shifted the setting of this story from New York City to San Francisco. Written in three days in Kerouac’s spontaneous prose style, it is based on his love affair with a black woman, an edgier topic when Kerouac wrote this in 1953 than today. Originally published in 1958.

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  • Kerouac, Jack. On the Road. New York: Penguin, 2002.

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    The adventures of a young writer in search of experience as he travels across the country and then south into Mexico with his buddy, Dean Moriarty, based on Neal Cassady. Kerouac’s only best-selling novel, published in 1957.

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  • Kerouac, Jack. On the Road: The Original Scroll. Edited by Howard Cunnell. New York: Penguin, 2007.

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    Ostensibly the version of the novel as Kerouac originally wrote it, including the character’s real names; the original typescript has been lightly edited. Accompanied by critical essays that explain the novel’s composition and historical, political, and social contexts. A fascinating comparison to the 1957 publication, helpful for tracking changes between typescript and published version.

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  • Kerouac, Jack. Big Sur. New York: Penguin, 2011.

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    Spontaneous prose treatment of Kerouac’s alcoholic breakdown while staying at Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s cabin on the California coast. Originally published in 1962.

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  • Kerouac, Jack. Desolation Angels. New York: Penguin, 2012a.

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    Begins with Kerouac’s fire-watching job in the Washington state mountains; continues with his journeys down the West Coast to San Francisco and then Mexico. Spontaneous prose coverage of Beat writers in the middle 1950s (part 1) and after publication made them famous (part 2).

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  • Kerouac, Jack. Satori in Paris. New York: Penguin, 2012b.

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    Embittered by fame and besotted by drink, Kerouac attempts to recover his French roots. He uses the Kerouac name, rather than a pseudonym, in this late, loosely written narrative. Originally published in 1966.

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  • Kerouac, Jack. Visions of Cody. New York: Penguin, 2012c.

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    Kerouac’s reworking of the topics and themes of On the Road (Kerouac 2002), more abundantly detailed using his newly developed spontaneous prose style. Written in 1951–1952, unpublished in its entirely until 1972.

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Poetry

Kerouac is known primarily as a novelist, yet he produced a large number of poems (including nearly one thousand haiku) that are often overlooked or considered a side project. Yet poets as diverse as Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, and singer Bob Dylan credit Kerouac’s poetry with influencing their styles and claim that Kerouac is a major American poet. Issues of defining “poetry” in the 20th century have been notably contentious, and Kerouac’s work is not always easily categorized as poetry or prose. In 1957 he wrote to New Directions publisher James Laughlin that all his work was “poetry sheeted in narrative steel” (Kerouac 2000, p. 17, cited under Correspondence). Old Angel Midnight (Kerouac 2001b, cited under Nonfiction) and Scripture of the Golden Eternity (Kerouac 2001, cited under Buddhism) in particular are considered either poetry or prose, depending on the perspective of the reader making the determination. The Scripture of the Golden Eternity was one of only two books of poems published in his lifetime, along with Mexico City Blues (1959). Kerouac assembled three books that were published posthumously: Pomes All Sizes (1992), Old Angel Midnight (1993), and Book of Blues (1995). The publication of the Library of America volume (Kerouac 2012) includes all of these books and more, providing a comprehensive collection of Kerouac’s poems in one volume. Readers who wish to collect the entirety of Kerouac’s published poems should also acquire Trip Trap (Kerouac, et al. 1998), Scattered Poems (Kerouac 2001b), and Heaven and Other Poems (Kerouac 2001a).

  • Kerouac, Jack. Heaven and Other Poems. Bolinas, CA: Grey Fox, 2001a.

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    In addition to poems, most of which are reprinted in Kerouac 2012, this book includes letters from Kerouac to editor Donald Allen and a comic Kerouac drew, “Doctor Sax and the Deception of the Sea Shroud.”

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  • Kerouac, Jack. Scattered Poems. San Francisco: City Lights, 2001b.

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    Posthumous collection from various sources. Library of America collection (Kerouac 2012) includes a dozen poems originally published in Scattered Poems; two dozen additional poems appear in this volume.

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  • Kerouac, Jack. Jack Kerouac: Collected Poems. Edited by Marilène Phipps-Kettlewell. New York: Library of America, 2012.

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    Gathers poems from published collections: Mexico City Blues (1959), The Scripture of the Golden Eternity (1960), Book of Blues (1995), Pomes All Sizes (1992), Old Angel Midnight (1993), Book of Haikus (2003), as well as a selection of uncollected poems. Phipps-Kettlewell’s idiosyncratic and baffling introduction does nothing to introduce the poems, but the apparatus includes an extensive chronology and a set of helpful notes. Convenient and affordable one-volume collection of Kerouac’s poems.

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  • Kerouac, Jack, Albert Saijo, and Lew Welch. Trip Trap: Haiku along the Road from San Francisco to New York 1959. Bolinas, CA: Grey Fox, 1998.

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    Short, playful poems written collaboratively on a road trip. Originally published 1973.

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Short Works and Journals

Kerouac did not pursue the short story form, but he published occasionally in magazines, mostly non-fiction travel pieces collected in Lonesome Traveler (Kerouac 2007) and some excerpts, short fiction, and opinion columns collected after his death in Good Blonde & Others (Kerouac 1993). His juvenilia is collected in Atop an Underwood (Kerouac 1999), allowing readers to track his early development as a writer. Windblown World (Kerouac 2006) collects a selection of journal entries in the years following those referenced in Atop an Underwood. The Haunted Life (Kerouac 2014) prefigures Kerouac’s first published novel, The Town and the City.

Nonfiction

In addition to novels, poetry, and short works, Kerouac wrote other works that defy easy categorization. His habit of writing down his dreams upon awakening resulted in Book of Dreams (Kerouac 2001a), and his habit of being an inveterate scribbler in notebooks resulted in Old Angel Midnight (Kerouac 2001b) and Book of Sketches (Kerouac 2006).

Buddhism

Beginning in the mid-1950s, Kerouac became interested in Buddhism and other forms of Eastern religion and philosophy. He applied his own idiosyncratic style of study to key works of the Buddhist canon, and Buddhism, particularly the notions of impermanence and the illusory nature of reality, permeated his writing for at least the next ten years. The Scripture of the Golden Eternity (Kerouac 2001) and Some of the Dharma (Kerouac 1999) are two prominent non-fiction works that deal with Buddhism, as does his take on the life of the Buddha, Wake Up: A Life of the Buddha (Kerouac 2009).

Collections

Kerouac’s work has not received the academic treatment accorded to work by writers such as Fitzgerald and Hemingway. There are no established, authorized collections of his books. The haphazard manner of their publication has been largely matched by the haphazard manner of their reprints. Ann Charters accomplished groundbreaking work in improving Kerouac’s developing reputation by compiling his bibliography (Charters 1975, cited under Reference Works) and editing collections of correspondence (Kerouac 1996 and Kerouac 2000, both cited under Correspondence), but no authorized or critical editions have been produced in her wake. Kerouac 2007b allows readers to view the Duluoz Legend in one table of contents and to read selections from the books, while providing ample proof of Kerouac’s serious focus on creating an original and modern literature. Kerouac 2007a brings to Kerouac’s reputation the Library of America imprimatur, as did the later Phipps-Kettlewell (Kerouac 2012, cited under Poetry).

  • Kerouac, Jack. Jack Kerouac: Road Novels 1957–1960. Edited by Douglas Brinkley. New York: Library of America, 2007a.

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    Includes On the Road, The Dharma Bums, The Subterraneans, Tristessa, Lonesome Traveler (a collection of short works), as well as journal entries taken from Windblown World (Kerouac 2006, cited under Short Works and Journals), a chronology, and notes for references in the texts. Convenient and economical.

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  • Kerouac, Jack. The Portable Jack Kerouac. Edited by Ann Charters. New York: Penguin, 2007b.

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    Charters presents excerpts from Kerouac’s novels according to the chronology of Kerouac’s life rather than the order in which they were written. Includes “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose” and “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose” as well as poetry, magazine articles, and selected letters. Originally published in 1995.

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Film and Theater

Kerouac was interested in writing movie scripts for much of his life. He corresponded with various Hollywood personalities after the success of On the Road, offering suggestions for how the book might best be portrayed on film. A film version was finally released in 2012 to mixed reviews. A movie titled The Beat Generation was produced in 1959, and Kerouac’s novel The Subterraneans was made into a movie in 1960, neither with input from Kerouac. Prevented by copyright from using the phrase “Beat Generation” as his own, Kerouac participated in the production of Pull My Daisy, an independent film that is still shown in art houses and revivals. Doctor Sax & the Great World Snake (Kerouac 2003) is a posthumous publication that adds little to Kerouac’s reputation.

Graphic Art

Kerouac frequently sketched in his notebooks, occasionally drew cartoons for his friends’ children, and even sent a sketch to his publisher for a possible cover for a novel. He grew more serious about painting in his later years, frequently drawing on religious themes, both Buddhist and Christian. Adler 2004 is the first—and so far, only—book-length guide to Kerouac’s paintings and drawings.

Recordings

Kerouac was an effective reader of his works, appearing at the Village Vanguard in Greenwich Village in 1957 and on several television programs, most notably accompanied by Steve Allen on piano in 1959. Kerouac made three major-record label recordings in 1959; these are collected on the Jack Kerouac Collection.

  • Kerouac, Jack. The Jack Kerouac Collection. 3 CDs. Santa Monica, CA: Rhino Records, 1990.

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    CD recordings. Includes Poetry for the Beat Generation (1959), Blues and Haikus (1959), and Readings by Jack Kerouac on the Beat Generation (1960). Includes an excerpt from a Beat Generation forum held at Brandeis in 1958 and extensive and informative liner notes. Important resource for hearing Kerouac’s delivery, as he valued rhythm and sound in his works.

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  • Kerouac, Jack. Jack Kerouac Reads On the Road. Produced by Jim Sampas and Lee Ranaldo. Salem, MA: Rykodisc, 1999.

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    CD recordings. Kerouac sings four jazz standards and reads a lengthy passage (nearly thirty minutes) from On the Road in his homemade recordings. Important for readers interested in hearing Kerouac’s interpretation of his written words.

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  • Lombreglia, Ralph and Kate Bernhardt, dirs. The Jack Kerouac Romnibus. CD. New York: Penguin Electronic, 1995.

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    A multimedia CD-ROM project coupled with the annotated text of The Dharma Bums. Includes searchable facsimiles of selected journal pages, vintage photographs and videos, and videos of interviews with Kerouac acquaintances and scholars. Its multimedia approach and interlinked resources make this very useful in the classroom.

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Reception

Many of Kerouac’s books received harsh or belittling reviews upon publication, while others were not reviewed at all. Richard Kostelanetz wrote in the New York Times in 1978 that Kerouac’s works “suffered from the most malicious early reviewing ever accorded a major American novelist—reviews full of unsubstantiated conjecture about Kerouac’s intelligence, his life style, his ambitions, his literary sense, his creative methods” (Richard Kostelanetz, “Saint Jack,” New York Times, 31 December 1978). Time magazine and Modern Library, among others, have since listed On the Road as one of the most important English-language novels of the 20th century. There are currently no book-length studies of Kerouac’s reception history. America Responds and Featured Author: Jack Kerouac link to contemporary sources that guide readers in tracing Kerouac’s reception. Johnson 2000 applies critical scrutiny to one of Kerouac’s television appearances.

Criticism

Kerouac’s loose, unconventional style of writing, the perceived sensationalism of his subject matter, his early celebrity status, and his ongoing popularity with readers outside of the classroom have contributed to a low level of scholarly attention compared with other US writers of his day such as J. D. Salinger or Vladimir Nabokov.

Novels

Tallman 1959 was one of the first—and only—critically insightful considerations of Kerouac’s work to appear in the writer’s lifetime. Hrebeniak 2006, Hunt 1996, and Weinreich 2002 are book-length studies that investigate Kerouac’s spontaneous prose style but are sufficiently comprehensive and thematically inclusive to shed light on his novels generally.

On the Road

Bloom 2004 and Holladay and Holton 2009 are collections of essays by literary scholars. Leland 2007 and Schwartz 1999 investigate possible applications of the novel’s lessons to one’s life. Leland is playful and light, yet the author takes the novel seriously; Schwartz is academic. Dardess 1974 helps substantiate the novel’s reputation by outlining its structural principals. Gewirtz 2007 and Gussow 1984 deal with the novel’s composition; Gewirtz illustrates the numerous early drafts in a coffee table-style book while Gussow draws on letters and interviews to explore editor Malcolm Cowley’s role in getting the novel into print. Abbott 2013 is an attempt to draw on political issues that resonate in the novel.

  • Abbott, Philip. “The State of Nature on 66: Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and the Social Contract Tradition.” Philosophy & Literature 37.1 (2013): 210–227.

    DOI: 10.1353/phl.2013.0008Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The characters seem apolitical, but the book itself can be evaluated as a work of political thought promoting the social contract tradition and exploring relationships in a “state of nature.” Abbott presents an effective way of bringing coherence to the novel’s apparent disjointedness.

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  • Bloom, Harold, ed. Jack Kerouac’s On the Road Modern Critical Interpretations. Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations. New York: Chelsea House, 2004.

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    Bloom’s withering introduction contends that On the Road is “rubbish” and has “no literary value whatsoever” (p. 1). Still, the volume includes critical essays helpful for general readers. See especially Carole Gottlieb Vopat “On the Road: A Re-evaluation” and Douglas Malcolm “‘Jazz America’: Jazz and African American Culture in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.”

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  • Dardess, George. “Delicate Dynamics of Friendship: A Reconsideration of On the Road.” American Literature 46 (May 1974): 200–206.

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    Dardess demonstrates that On the Road’s “formidably complex” structure is classical in its design and traces the progress of the main characters’ relationship in its arc from restriction to freedom. Reprinted in Bloom 2004.

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  • Gewirtz, Isaac. Beatific Soul: Jack Kerouac and On the Road. New York: New York Public Library, 2007.

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    Gewirtz is curator of Berg Collection at the New York Public Library and thus has full access to the Kerouac papers preserved there. Draws on archival material, much of which is stunningly reproduced here in color, to document the complicated, years-long process by which Kerouac came to type On the Road in three weeks.

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  • Gussow, Adam. “Bohemia Revisited: Malcolm Cowley, Jack Kerouac, and On the Road.” Georgia Review 38.2 (Summer 1984): 291–311.

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    Details the influence of Malcolm Cowley, Viking Press literary advisor, on On the Road as a text and Kerouac as a writer.

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  • Holladay, Hilary, and Robert Holton, eds. What’s Your Road, Man? Critical Essays on Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2009.

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    Essays on the novel’s composition history, reception, and themes of identity, ethnicity, and language. See Matt Theado, “Revisions of Kerouac: The Long, Strange Trip of the On the Road Typescripts” for details of the 120-foot scroll typescript, and Lars Erik Larson “Freeways and Straight Roads: The Interstates of Sal Paradise and 1950s America” for the significance of the highway system in postwar United States. Scholarly studies aimed at upper-level high school and university students.

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  • Leland, John. Why Kerouac Matters: The Lessons of On the Road (They’re Not What You Think). New York: Viking, 2007.

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    A lively and, at times, playful analysis of the novel as a guide for life. Leland finds that rather than calling for countercultural behaviors, the novel often supports middle-class values.

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  • Schwartz, Omar. The View from On the Road: The Rhetorical Vision of Jack Kerouac. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1999.

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    A book-length rhetorical analysis of On the Road that outlines what Schwartz sees as alternative paths through contemporary culture.

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Spontaneous Prose

Many of the previously listed analyses of Kerouac’s work include consideration of his spontaneous prose method, but the works listed here deal with this subject in greater specificity. Dardess 1975 is one of the earliest serious considerations of the subject. Quinn 2004 focuses particularly on the associations of Kerouac’s prose and the bebop music that partly inspired it. Hunt 2014 is the latest and most compelling treatment in appreciating Kerouac’s style; Hunt’s indispensable analysis is the most carefully rendered account of Kerouac’s art. Douglas 2000 provides the perspective of an Ivy League professor who has taught Kerouac courses for decades.

  • Dardess, George. “The Logic of Spontaneity: A Reconsideration of Kerouac’s ‘Spontaneous Prose Method.’” Boundary 2 3.3 (1975): 729–743.

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    Draws from essays and journal entries by Emerson and Thoreau to ground Kerouac’s technique as an “inherited conception.” Cites extended passages from Visions of Cody, The Subterraneans, and Doctor Sax for close reading. Includes “Essentials of Spontaneous Prose” and “Belief & Technique for Modern Prose,” thus a convenient package for the classroom.

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  • Douglas, Ann. “‘Telepathic Shock and Meaning Excitement’: Kerouac’s Poetics of Intimacy.” College Literature 27.1 (Winter 2000): 8–21.

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    Columbia University professor and author of highly regarded cultural studies, Douglas offers a reader’s response that, like Kerouac’s writing itself, is both personal and culturally informed. She emphasizes Kerouac’s honesty and compassion against the historical period of FBI surveillance and government loyalty programs.

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  • Hunt, Tim. The Textuality of Soul-Work: Jack Kerouac’s Quest for Spontaneous Prose. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014.

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    The most thorough examination yet of Kerouac’s spontaneous method, demonstrating Kerouac’s performative accomplishment in using the typewriter to enact orality. Astute critical analyses of textual study by one of Kerouac’s sharpest critic-scholars, this is essential reading for anyone studying Kerouac, mid-century language experiments, or the topic of text versus speech.

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  • Quinn, Richard. “Jack Kerouac, Charlie Parker, and the Poetics of Beat Improvisation.” Buddhism and Jack Kerouac’s Nature Writings. In Reconstructing the Beats. Edited by Jennie Skerl, 151–167. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781403982100Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A comparison of the techniques of Charlie Parker and Jack Kerouac leads to greater understanding of the nature and cultural significance of improvisation. Helpful for readers who struggle to “get” Kerouac, as Quinn suggests an improvisational experience in reading Kerouac’s work.

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Race and Gender

Kerouac wrote about his interactions with women and with people of color, yet he was rarely recognized for sensitivity or nuance in his treatment. Typically his perspectives were dismissed as products of their time and place, or else his problematic relations were conflated with his writing as if to demonstrate that he could not effectively negotiate in terms of race and gender. Campbell 1999 serves as a helpful guide in starting a critical examination of the interactions of the Beat writers and issues of race. Nicholls 2003 and Trudeau 2011 inspect these issues with critical theory. Grace 2002 is the most effective analysis for its clear insights, breadth of coverage, and sheer readability; brings biographical criticism to bear to show how Kerouac altered or modulated events to craft his version. Mikelli 2010a and Mikelli 2010b explore issues of race and gender in Kerouac’s novel of his affair with a black woman in the early 1950s.

  • Campbell, James. “Kerouac’s Blues.” Antioch Review 57.3 (1999): 363–370.

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    Despite its rather scatter-shot summary of the Beats and race, centering on Kerouac’s “bop novel,” The Subterraneans, this article clarifies the problematic issues of the Beats and specifically Kerouac, adopting their own limited, self-serving perspective of Black American culture.

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  • Grace, Nancy M. “A White Man in Love: A Study of Race, Gender, Class, and Ethnicity in Jack Kerouac’s Maggie Cassidy, The Subterraneans, and Tristessa.” In The Beat Generation: Critical Essays. Edited by Kostas Myrsiades, 93–120. New York: Peter Lang, 2002.

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    Biographical and critical exploration of race and gender, focusing on Kerouac’s portrayal of the “dark woman.” Grace’s careful documentary research provides insight to Kerouac’s method of constructing “ficto-autobiography” in his complications of masculine whiteness.

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  • Mikelli, Eftychia. “Exotic Demons: Representations of the Ethnic Woman in Jack Kerouac’s The Subterraneans.” In Illuminating the Dark Side: Evil, Women and the Feminine. Edited by Andrea Ruthven and Gabriela Mádlo. Oxford: Inter-Disciplinary Press, 2010a.

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    Explores constructions of femininity in The Subterraneans: archetypal maternal images and conventional perceptions of motherhood. Traces the main female character’s transformation from angel to demon. Mikelli’s full article (with slightly different title) is available online

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  • Mikelli, Eftychia. “A Postcolonial Beat: Projections of Race and Gender in Jack Kerouac’s The Subterraneans.” Atlantis: Revista De La Asociación Española De Estudios Ingleses Y Norteamericanos 32.2 (2010b): 27–42.

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    Analyzes Kerouac’s view of the “exotic other” in terms of both race and gender, focusing on The Subterraneans. Mikelli provides postcolonial readings aimed at clarifying ethnicity and gender and the process of fetishization of the female body.

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  • Nicholls, Brendon. “The Melting Pot That Boiled Over: Racial Fetishism and the Lingua Franca of Jack Kerouac’s Fiction.” MFS: Modern Fiction Studies 49.3 (2003): 524–549.

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    Analysis of Kerouac’s portrayal of black characters; Nicholls locates instances of “race changes,” supported by Oedipal explorations and an examination of Kerouac’s ethnic minority status contrasting with his American national identity.

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  • Trudeau, Justin Thomas. “Specters in the Rear-View: Haunting Whiteness in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.” Text and Performance Quarterly 31.2 (2011): 149–168.

    DOI: 10.1080/10462937.2010.549238Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Drawing on Derrida and Freud, Trudeau considers the text of the original scroll version of On the Road, arguing that the figure of the ghost provides insightful analysis of Kerouac’s approach to racial “haunting.”

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Ethnicity

As Kerouac crossed geopolitical boundaries, he reported on cultural shifts and the cultural flavors in which he immersed himself. Anctil 1990 collects academic papers selected from the International Jack Kerouac Gathering in Quebec City in 1987. The conference organizers recognized that scholarly focus on Kerouac’s French-Canadian ethnicity was overdue. Melehy 2012a and Melehy 2012b explore Kerouac’s Quebecois background with greater dexterity and deeper access to material than the scholars in Anctil 1990. Ligairi 2009 suggests that Kerouac imposed his own desires on Mexican culture; similarly, García-Robles 2014 outlines Kerouac’s travels in Mexico and the ways he configured his experiences into his work. Ligairi is the more scholarly work; García-Robles, the more reflective. Tytell 2013 contrasts views of various Beat writers but maintains the standard interpretation that the Beats related sympathetically with their subjects. Martinez 2003 stands in sharp contrast to Ligairi 2009, Tytell 2013, and García-Robles 2014; drawing from wide-ranging critical theorists, Martinez intends to reconfigure the accepted relationships between the Beats and Mexico. Skinazi 2009 suggests that Kerouac’s ethnic positioning as an outsider is responsible for his American view.

  • Anctil, Pierre, ed. Un Homme Grand: Jack Kerouac at the Crossroads of Many Cultures/Jack Kérouac à la Confluence des Cultures. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1990.

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    Includes eleven essays in French and eight in English. Of particular interest for their treatment of Kerouac’s ethnicity are Eric Waddell’s “Kérouac, le Québec, l’Amérique . . . et moi,” Gerald Nicosia’s “Kerouac: Writer without a Home,” and Jaap van der Bent’s “A French American: Kerouac’s Double Identity.” Originally published as Ottawa, ON: Carleton University Press, 1990.

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  • García-Robles, Jorge. At the End of the Road: Jack Kerouac in Mexico. Translated by Daniel C. Schechter. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014.

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    In his analysis of Kerouac’s literary reconfiguration of Mexico, García-Robles overrelies on previous biographies and Kerouac’s romanticized works and writes with poetic hyperbole that sometimes strains scholarly integrity. Compares Kerouac’s version of Mexico with those of other writers. Originally published as El Disfraz de la Inocencia: La Historia de Jack Kerouac en México. Mexico City: Ediciones del Milenio, 2000.

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  • Ligairi, Rachel. “When Mexico Looks Like Mexico: The Hyperrealization of Race and the Pursuit of the Authentic.” In What’s Your Road, Man? Critical Essays on Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Edited by Hilary Holladay and Robert Holton, 139–154. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2009.

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    On the Road’s characters’ conflicted views of ethnicity and race, drawing on Baudrillard to reveal Sal Paradise’s perceptions of the real and the simulated. Clearly written, presents a contrasting view for those who see the attainment of “IT” as the chief theme of the novel (see Holladay and Holton 2009, cited under On the Road).

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  • Martinez, Manuel Luis. Countering the Counterculture: Rereading Postwar American Dissent from Jack Kerouac to Tomás Rivera. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003.

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    Martinez argues that Kerouac and his Beat coterie of writers were not countercultural at all. Instead, he concludes these writers embraced patriarchal, colonial, and even racist values of the conservative mainstream. Not all Beat scholars will agree with his views, but his passionate, insightful readings of Beat texts are important for those studying hegemony and notions of the counterculture.

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  • Melehy, Hassan. “Jack Kerouac and the Nomadic Cartographies of Exile.” In The Transnational Beat Generation. 31–50. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012a.

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    Through close readings of On the Road and other works, Melehy explores how the “poetics of exile” leads to Kerouac’s geographic and linguistic exile. Vital study for those interested in tracking Kerouac’s problematic sense of ethnicity in the United States.

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  • Melehy, Hassan. “Literatures of Exile and Return: Jack Kerouac and Quebec.” American Literature: A Journal of Literary History, Criticism, and Bibliography 84.3 (2012b): 589–615.

    DOI: 10.1215/00029831-1664728Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of the Quebecois diaspora and the resultant situation of exile that informs Kerouac’s sense of self, examining how Kerouac struggled to depict this condition.

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  • Skinazi, Karen E. H. “Through Roots and Routes: On the Road’s Portrayal of an Outsider’s Journey into the Meaning of America.” Canadian Review of American Studies 39.1 (2009): 85–103.

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    Beginning with a helpful review of criticism of ethnicity in Kerouac’s works, Skinazi contrasts Dean as natively American and Sal as ethnic outsider. Although Skinazi struggles to fuse Kerouac’s French-Canadian heritage with Sal’s Italian-American heritage, she demonstrates that Sal’s “roots” and Dean’s “routes” are essential in Kerouac’s portrayal of America.

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  • Tytell, John. “Beat Mexico.” Studies in Latin American Popular Culture 31 (2013): 50–68.

    DOI: 10.7560/SLAPC3104Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examination of Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William Burroughs’ evolving perspectives of Mexico and the resultant influence on their work. Consideration of Kerouac’s romantic notion of the “Mexican fellaheen.”

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Buddhism and Christianity

A lifelong Catholic, Kerouac nonetheless popularized Buddhism in the United States with novels such as The Dharma Bums, although some Buddhists at the time disputed the accuracy of his renditions. Haynes 2005 is the best starting place for readers who wish to know more about Buddhism and Kerouac’s approach to the topic. Giles 2011 and Lott 2004 scrutinize Kerouac’s portrayals of Buddhism. Tonkin 1995 is essentially an anthology that includes additional writers, but the author’s selections and her notes are educational. Donahue 2009 places Visions of Gerard into the tradition of writing about saints’ lives.

  • Donahue, James J. “Visions of Gerard” and Jack Kerouac’s Complicated Hagiography.” Midwest Quarterly 51.1 (2009): 26–44.

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    Citing the usefulness of Thomas Heffernan’s term “sacred biography”—as contrasted with “hagiography”—Donahue details Kerouac’s place in the literature of saints’ lives, focusing on Kerouac’s merging of biography and fiction. Helpful for those studying Catholic writers as well as general cultural notions of canonization.

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  • Giles, Todd. “‘Upsidedown like Fools’: Jack Kerouac’s ‘Desolation Blues’ and the Struggle for Enlightenment.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 53.2 (2011): 179–206.

    DOI: 10.1353/tsl.2011.0007Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Giles focuses on the poem cycle “Desolation Blues,” where he sees Kerouac’s basic Buddhist interpretations of reality, impermanence, self, and suffering. Giles finds that Buddhism helped Kerouac create a poetics of spontaneity proportionate to his pre-Buddhist On the Road and Visions of Cody.

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  • Haynes, Sarah. “An Exploration of Jack Kerouac’s Buddhism: Text and Life.” Contemporary Buddhism 6.2 (2005): 153–171.

    DOI: 10.1080/14639940500470031Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Focusing on Some of the Dharma and The Scripture of the Golden Eternity, works that often get brief treatment at best from other scholars, Haynes presents an informative introduction to Kerouac’s Buddhism. An informed, clearly written introduction.

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  • Lott, Deshae E. “‘All Things Are Different Appearances of the Same Emptiness’: Buddhism and Jack Kerouac’s Nature Writings.” In Reconstructing the Beats. Edited by Jennie Skerl, 169–185. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781403982100Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An introductory-level essay that examines Buddhism’s influence on Kerouac’s nature writing, an area that has not been granted prolonged, focused study.

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  • Tonkin, Carole, ed. Big Sky Mind: Buddhism and the Beat Generation. New York: Riverhead, 1995.

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    Stephen Prothero’s twenty-page introduction establishes with concision and clarity the importance of the Beat writers in popularizing Buddhism in the United States.

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Poetry

Kerouac’s poetry has not attracted the critical scrutiny that his prose works have. Jones 1992 is the only book-length study. Giles 2011 (cited under Buddhism and Christianity) is so far the only critic to attend to “Desolation Blues.” Iadonisi 2014 and Weinreich 2003 both analyze Kerouac’s prolific composition of haiku poems. Jones 1992 and Jones 2007 guide readers through the sometimes puzzling and often personal language of Mexico City Blues, Kerouac’s best-known and most influential long poem.

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