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literature

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Kerouac, Jack (1922-1969)  

The bisexual Jack Kerouac omitted references to his homosexuality from his otherwise autobiographical works.

Kerouac, born Jean-Louis Kerouac in Lowell, Massachusetts, on March 12, 1922, was the third child of a working-class, French-Canadian family. Kerouac did not speak English until attending parochial school at the age of six, the French-Canadian dialect Joual being his primary language.

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In 1926, Kerouac's older brother Gerard died of rheumatic fever. Gerard's death had a profound effect on the young Kerouac, initiating his lifelong search for the meaning of life and death, which would become the main theme of his writing.

Kerouac moved to New York City in 1939, where he attended Horace Mann Prep School for a year before going on to Columbia University via a football scholarship. Leaving Columbia in 1942, Kerouac joined the merchant marines and sailed to Greenland. He then enlisted in the U.S. Navy but was discharged on psychiatric grounds.

Through his first wife, Edie Parker, Kerouac met Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs in 1944. In 1946, Neal Cassady became involved with their group, and the nucleus of the Beat Generation was created. It was with Cassady that Kerouac took to the road. They in effect created the lifestyle that would become the model for the "Beat way of life." It combined a rejection of responsibility and of what they saw as bankrupt bourgeois American culture with a search for a life-affirming spirituality.

In 1950, one year after his marriage to Parker was legally annulled, Kerouac married Joan Haverty. Kerouac left Haverty after seven months when she announced her pregnancy. On February 16, 1952, Haverty gave birth to a daughter, Jan, whom Kerouac, consistent with his lifelong avoidance of responsibility, never acknowledged. He died in 1969, from complications of alcoholism.

Kerouac's misogynistic tendencies and Catholic guilt made lasting relationships with men and women impossible, as evidenced by his short-term marriages and his casual attitude toward his male lovers (among whom were Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Alan Ansen and Gore Vidal).

Kerouac's uneasiness toward his homosexuality led to his practice of omitting his own homosexual experiences from his books. For example, The Subterraneans (1958) alters his real-life affair with Gore Vidal into a platonic night spent in a hotel room. Despite this reticence and ambivalence, many of his early works authentically depict gay culture at a time when such portrayals were rare in popular literature.

Seen as the authentic voice of the Beat Generation, Kerouac is best known for his novel On The Road (1957), which he wrote in three weeks, employing a writing method he would come to call "spontaneous prose." In 1958, in "Essentials of Spontaneous Prose," Kerouac likened his writing method to that of a jazz musician. Kerouac felt that if he relied on spontaneity and improvisation and less on revision, he would achieve a deeper connection between author and audience.

This style led to an incredible output by Kerouac. Between the publication of his first novel, The Town and The City (1950), and On The Road, Kerouac wrote the manuscripts of eight novels and two future books of poetry. Kerouac envisioned his novels as one connecting story (modeled after Balzac's La Comedie Humaine), which he called "Legend of Dulouz," Dulouz being the fictional name he gave himself.

Although known mainly for his novels depicting Beat life, Kerouac's experimental writings (including Visions of Cody [1972], Book of Dreams, [1961], and Old Angel Midnight [1959]), most of which were widely circulated in manuscript, were sources of inspiration for several writers by virtue of their inventiveness and their unique use of sound.

Kerouac was also one of the first American writers to embrace Buddhism and incorporate its philosophy into his work. The Buddhist influence is especially prominent in The Dharma Bums (1958), Tristessa (1960), and Visions of Gerard (1963). In 1956, at the urging of Gary Snyder, Kerouac wrote his first and only published sutra, The Scripture of the Golden Eternity (1960).

Carmine Esposito

     

 
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Jack Kerouac circa 1956. Photograph by Tom Palumbo.
  
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   Related Entries
  
literature >> Overview:  Beat Generation

The writers of the Beat Generation, many of whom were gay or bisexual, endorsed gay rights as a part of their rebellion against inhibition and self-censorship.

social sciences >> Overview:  Buddhism

Buddhism is unusual among world religions in that it generally expresses neutrality on the issue of homosexuality.

literature >> Balzac, Honoré de

One of the masters of French nineteenth-century fiction, Balzac provocatively includes both lesbian and gay male characters in his novels.

literature >> Burroughs, William S.

Both in his life and his novels, American writer William S. Burroughs was an outlaw and a provocateur, focusing on sexual repression as the fundamental element of social control and writing in a surrealistic and bitterly satirical mode.

literature >> Ginsberg, Allen

The forthrightly gay Allen Ginsberg is probably the best-known American poet to emerge in the post-World War II period.

literature >> Norse, Harold

Often categorized as a Beat writer, poet and memoirist Harold Norse created a body of work that uses everyday language and images to explore and celebrate both the commonplace and the exotic.

arts >> Rivers, Larry

One of the pioneers of Pop Art, Larry Rivers was a prolific artist, sculptor, and jazz musician; although he did not identify as a bisexual, the twice-married artist had significant same-sex sexual experience.

literature >> Vidal, Gore

The multifaceted Gore Vidal is important in the gay literary heritage because of the straightforwardness with which he pursued gay themes and included gay characters in his work.


    Bibliography
   

Charters, Ann. Kerouac: A Biography. New York: St. Martin, 1987.

Clark, Tom. Jack Kerouac. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984.

_____. Kerouac's Last Word: Jack Kerouac in Escapade. Sudbury, Mass.: Water Row, 1987.

French, Warren. Jack Kerouac. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1986.

Hunt, Tim. Kerouac's Crooked Road: Development of Fiction. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1981.

Jones, James T. Map of Mexico City Blues: Jack Kerouac as Poet. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1992.

Nicosia, Gerald. Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac. New York: Grove Press, 1983.

Walsh, Joy. Kerouac: Statement in Brown. Clarence Center, N.Y.: Textile Bridge, 1984.

Weinreich, Regina. The Spontaneous Poetics of Jack Kerouac: A Study of the Fiction. Carbondale, Ill.: Paragon House, 1990.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Esposito, Carmine  
    Entry Title: Kerouac, Jack  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated June 3, 2008  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/kerouac_j.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  
 

 

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