- NAME: Jack Kerouac
- OCCUPATION: Journalist, Author, Poet
- BIRTH DATE: March 12, 1922
- DEATH DATE: October 21, 1969
- EDUCATION: Columbia University, The New School, Lowell High School, Horace Mann School for Boys
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Lowell, Massachusetts
- PLACE OF DEATH: St. Petersburg, Florida
- Originally: Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac
- AKA: Jean-Louis de Kerouac
- AKA: Jack Kerouac
Best Known For
Jack Kerouac was an American writer best known for the novel On the Road, which became an American classic, pioneering the Beat Generation in the 1950s.
Mark Twain - Early Years (3:41)
A short biography of Jack Kerouac, writer and pioneer of the Beat Generation. He epitomized the era of sex, drugs, alcohol, and jazz through his novel "On the Road," which became the bible of the countercultural generation.
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Of the many wonderful new things Kerouac discovered in New York, and perhaps the most influential on his life, was jazz. He described the feeling of walking past a jazz club in Harlem: "Outside, in the street,
the sudden music which comes from the nitespot fills you with yearning for some intangible joy—and you feel that it can only be found within the smoky confines of the place." It was also during his year at Horace Mann that Kerouac first began writing seriously. He worked as a reporter for the Horace Mann Record, and published short stories in the school's literary magazine, the Horace Mann Quarterly.
The following year, in 1940, Kerouac began his freshman year as a football player and aspiring writer at Columbia University. However, he broke his leg in one of his first games and was relegated to the sidelines for the rest of the season. Although his leg had healed, Kerouac's coach refused to let him play the next year, and Kerouac impulsively quit the team and dropped out of college. He spent the next year working odd jobs and trying to figure out what to make of his life. He spent a few months pumping gas in Hartford, Connecticut. Then he hopped a bus to Washington, D.C., and worked on a construction crew building the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. Eventually Kerouac decided to join the military to fight for his country in World War II. He enlisted in the U.S. Marines in 1943, but was honorably discharged after only 10 days of service for what his medical report described as "strong schizoid trends."
After his discharge from the Marines, Kerouac returned to New York City and fell in with a group of friends that would eventually define a literary movement. He befriended Allen Ginsberg, a Columbia student, and William Burroughs, another college dropout and aspiring writer. Together, these three friends would go on to become the leaders of the Beat Generation of writers.
Living in New York in the late 1940s, Kerouac wrote his first novel, Town and City, a highly autobiographical tale about the intersection of small town family values and the excitement of city life. The novel was published in 1950 with the help of Ginsberg's Columbia professors, and although the well-reviewed book earned Kerouac a modicum of recognition, it did not make him famous.
Another of Kerouac's New York friends in the late 1940s was Neal Cassady; the two took several cross-country road trips to Chicago, Los Angeles, Denver, and even Mexico City. These trips provided the inspiration for Kerouac's next and greatest novel, On the Road, a barely fictionalized account of these road trips packed with sex, drugs and jazz. Kerouac's writing of On the Road in 1951 is the stuff of legend: He wrote the entire novel over one three-week bender of frenzied composition, on a single scroll of paper that was 120 feet long.
Like most legends, the story of the whirlwind composition of On the Road is part fact and part fiction. Kerouac did, in fact, write the novel on a single scroll in three weeks, but he had also spent several years making notes in preparation for this literary outburst.
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