King of the Beats died 50 years ago

The 50th anniversary of the death of Jack Kerouac, on October
21, is certain to inspire an outpouring of remembrance and might also spark
controversy. Certainly the “King of the Beats,” with his Quebecois roots, had
a powerful effect on me. In the Sixties, after reading just about everything Kerouac had written, I went on the
road, hitchhiking and riding freight trains from Montreal to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury.

In the Seventies, I earned
an MFA degree with the first draft of a novel in which Kerouac figures. Next decade, while working as a literary journalist, I attended the Quebec
City rencontre at which Beat luminaries (Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence
Ferlinghetti, Carolyn Cassady) encountered such Quebecois interpreters of
Kerouac as Victor Levy-Beaulieu. I wrote about that conference in the Calgary
Herald and The Kerouac Connection, arguing that “Kerouac is BIGGER than Beat.”

I rewrote my MFA novel and,
with Pottersfield Press, published it in 1993 as Visions of Kerouac.
The book later appeared in French translation as Le Fantome de Kerouac. It
proved to be the only work of fiction that I wished to keep alive. Three times
I revised and republished it, until in 2016, I brought out a fourth and final,
final, final revision as 
Kerouac’s Ghost.

Looking back, I see Kerouac
as influencing all my books, most of which take a creative nonfiction approach
to biography and/or history. I regard Joan Rawshanks in the Fog,
from Visions of Cody, as seminal. It preceded Tom Wolfe and
qualifies Kerouac as the godfather of New Journalism, one of two major
streams of creative nonfiction. No matter what I write about – from Arctic
exploration to the Highland Clearances — I burn to get out of the archives and go to where whatever happened. That’s the Kerouac in me.

Did I mention controversy? I
draw your attention to Kerouac: The Last Quarter Century by Gerald
Nicosia. He is the author of Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack
In 1983, when it appeared, I reviewed it: “Comparing Kerouac
biographies, I quickly discovered that Memory Babe had far more
authority than any other. I consider Gerald Nicosia to be the world’s foremost
authority on Jack Kerouac.”

I see no reason to revise
that assessment — even though, for the past couple of decades, Nicosia has
been embroiled in a battle against those who gained control of the Kerouac
estate and then sold it piecemeal to the highest bidder. The Last Quarter
, which tells a terrible true story of high-stakes forgery, bullying, and unmitigated greed, is a must-read for Kerouac aficionados. It’s available
through Noodlebrain Press at Box 130, Corte Madera, California (email: A revised
edition of Memory Babe will be published in 2020 by Cool Grove Press.

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