Jack Kerouac was once described as the physical embodiment of the beat generation, a literary subculture that rejected the established narrative values and materialism while embracing non-conformity and exploration with drugs and sexuality. His most recognized work, On the Road, is an excellent example of the beat genre which would go on to influence several notable names such as the Beatles and Bob Dylan.
Kerouac’s legacy would also serve to fuel the counterculture movement of the 1960s, solidifying his place in literary and cultural history. His status as a virtuoso in authorship would only grow larger in the years following his death in 1969. Here are some fascinating details about his life that may have previously gone unnoticed.
1. On the Road Was Written In Three Weeks
When Jack Kerouac was invited to join the stage on The Steve Allen Show in 1959, he was questioned about his latest bestseller and the process behind his penmanship. Kerouac revealed that On the Road took only three weeks to complete, but his actual travels across America, as depicted in the novel, would last for seven years. On the Road‘s astounding success and status as a crowning achievement of Kerouac’s career only serves to further reiterate his mastery over spontaneous prose.
2. “The Scroll”
During the three weeks when Jack Kerouac worked on the manuscript for On the Road, the entire piece was written on a long sheet of teletype paper that he had meticulously taped together. The 120-foot long paper, nicknamed “The Scroll” would be key in aiding Kerouac in his narrative streak. As opposed to merely going back and changing what he had written previously, he made his revisions to the manuscript by simply progressing his train of thought across the paper in a continuous unbroken stream.
3. Kerouac’s Marriage Was A Means To Escape Jail
When fellow beat author Lucien Carr murdered his friend David Kammerer in 1944, claiming self-defense, he called upon Jack Kerouac to help him dispose of the crime scene. This murder shook the foundations of the beat generation and earned its place in the New York Times headlines. However, this attempt at concealing the evidence proved futile as Jack was arrested and charged with being a material witness.
Unable to afford the set bail amount, Edie Parker, his girlfriend at the time, promised to secure his release under the condition that the two would be wed. Kerouac honored this agreement until the marriage was later annulled due to irreconcilable differences.
4. Jack Kerouac Coined The Term “Beat”
Fellow poet Herbert Huncke is credited with having been the first to use the “beat” moniker to describe the situation of African-Americans having been beaten down in life. In 1948, Jack Kerouac derived the term from “beatitude,” meaning blessedness, while simultaneously embracing the original connotation by Huncke having used it to depict someone having been beaten into exhaustion.
Despite being the pioneer of the beat generation, Kerouac grew to become disillusioned with the movement and never truly separated himself from his Catholic faith that had accompanied him through his upbringing.
5. Kerouac Was Deeply Fascinated By Zen Buddhism
Kerouac’s mother was a devout Catholic who sought to instill religious principles into the young Jack. He made his first Confession at the age of six and he never let go of his devotion to religion despite having taken the helm of a literary movement with radically different values.
However, after a visit to the San Jose Library, Jack Kerouac discovered A Buddhist Bible by Dwight Goddard, igniting a passion to meditate and study Zen Buddhism while retaining his roots to Catholicism. This newfound fascination with exploring spirituality inspired a literary creation by Jack Kerouac, titled The Dharma Bums. The novel, a fictional reflection of his own admiration and subsequent studies of the religion, became a popular hit with the youth while drawing criticism from some notable teachers of Zen Buddhism, such as Alan Watts, for its haphazard portrayal of the teaching.
Interested to learn more about the man who influenced the revolutionary counterculture movement of the 1960s? Be sure to check out what else Bookstr has to offer on Jack Kerouac’s legacy here.