Jack Kerouac Biography
Name at birth: Jean Louis Kerouac
Jack Kerouac studied briefly at Columbia University in New York (1940-41), where he met Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady and William S. Burroughs. Together they challenged the status quo in the literary world, writing frankly about their personal lives, which were dominated by alcohol and wild times. Kerouac coined the phrase "beat generation" to represent a general feeling among young intellectuals that the American dream had gone sour somewhere along the line. He is most famous for his 1957 novel On The Road, and is the author of the novels Dharma Bums and Desolation Angels.
Extra credit: In 2005 his military record, which includes many biographical details, was posted here, at The Smoking Gun.
Kerouac, Burroughs and Ginsberg all appear in our loop on Counterculture Heavyweights.
SEPTEMBER 6--A decade before 'On the Road' was published, Jack Kerouac evinced 'strong schizoid trends' that led military officials to declare him unfit for service. Details of Kerouac's 1943 honorable discharge--after just ten days of active duty--are contained in the late writer's official U.S. Naval Reserve file, which TSG obtained from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. The Beat Generation chronicler, who died at age 47 in 1969, enlisted in December 1942 and reported for active duty three months later. Almost immediately, though, he landed in the hospital, where he was examined by medical personnel who initially concluded that Kerouac suffered from dementia, according to the detail-rich military documents. Kerouac, pictured at right in his official Navy portrait, complained that the harsh appraisal, which was later softened, came after he complained of headaches and asked for aspirin. Instead, 'they diagnosed me Dementia Praecox,' he said. On the following pages you'll find a selection of the compelling Kerouac documents, beginning with the below June 1943 report recommending his discharge. A medical history report quotes Kerouac recalling a 'sex contact' with a 32-year-old woman (he was 14 at the time) that 'upset him somewhat.' The document also includes information from his mother and father, with mom reporting that she 'believes him heterosexual but interest in girls shallow.' A second, more extensive, medical report touches on Kerouac's masturbatory habits, writing ambitions, drunken sprees, and the voices and symphonies in his head. A must read, this report also includes Kerouac noting that he 'had been writing a novel, in the style of James Joyce, about his home town, and averaging approximately 16 hours daily in an effort to get it down. This was an experiment and he doesn't intend to publish.' The file's only example of Kerouac's writing is a one-page letter, drafted at the time of his enlistment, describing his spotty work history. (18 pages)
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what he saw as the destructive forces of capitalism and conformity in the United States.