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Kerouac at 95

Jack Kerouac was born on March 12th, 1922, meaning that today would’ve been his 95th birthday. Of course, he passed away long ago at the tragically young age of just 47. His friends, many of whom had become estranged from him in later years, outlived him, with Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs dying just a few months apart, in 1997. Even his mother outlived him. 

Yet although his life was cut short, like so many great artists, Kerouac’s legacy grew and grew after his death. Thanks in part to the perseverance of his old friend, Ginsberg, Kerouac’s novels and poetry gained respect in the coming decades. Though in life his was the much maligned “King of the Beats,” little more than a champion of juvenile delinquency, in death his work began to be studied in earnest. The book Ginsberg considered Kerouac’s masterpiece, Visions of Cody, was published in 1972, and the next year saw the release of Ann Charters’ biography.

In recent years, there has been another revival of interest, as his most famous work, On the Road, was released in scroll version and then turned into a movie, followed closely by Big Sur. Previously unpublished efforts like The Sea is my Brother and And the Hippos Were Boiled in their Tanks also managed to get published. The area of Kerouac studies has expanded and yielded all sorts of fascinating publications, with barely a year going by without some new avenue of inquiry opened. The discovery of the Joan Anderson letter a few years ago proved that Kerouac studies is as exciting as ever.

Wherever you are, take a moment to pause and think of the impact Kerouac had upon our world – from opening minds to inspiring generations of artists. Take a moment to open one of his books and appreciate his innovative prose and poetry. And, if you’re in or around Lowell today, consider dropping in on the celebrations.

David S. Wills

David S. Wills is the founder and editor of Beatdom literary journal and the author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs the Weird Cult and World Citizen: Allen Ginsberg as Traveller. His next book, High White Notes: The Rise and Fall of Gonzo Journalism comes out in November, 2021.

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