The Unknown Kerouac

The Unknown Kerouac
Todd Tietchen, Editor
Jean-Christophe Cloutier

The Library of America 2016
Hardback ISBN 978-1-59853-498-6

The Library of America’s release of Kerouac’s “rare, unpublished and newly translated writings,” edited by Todd Tietchen, conveys his mastery development as a writer and offers insight into the counterculture’s creative endeavors. 

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“. . . the story of life in America.”

In 1941, in his early 20s, living in New York City, he wrote, “I wish I were you.” It was a reflection of his wild drug-induced days lost in poetry and jazz with his new-found friends, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, and later, Neal Cassady, all who would play significant roles in many of his stories as well as his breakthrough 1957 novel, “On the Road.” 

During a lengthy illness in a charity hospital, he wrote “Journal 1951,” a period when came to accept his own artistic voice: “I SHALL BE MYSELF.”  He also predicted then that his intellectual abilities would be recognized after his death, and his writings would make money that “was supposed to come to me.” 

Available for the first time in English are two of his novels written in colloquial French. “The Night is my Woman,” finished in 1950, traces Kerouac’s roots and early life in a French-Canadian neighborhood in Lowell, Massachusetts, and “Old Bull in A Bowery,” based on trip to Mexico. It is in these works that Kerouac’s autobiographical character, Sal Paradise, emerged.

Kerouac’s spontaneous writing was often on pieces of paper he taped together into a continuous typewriter roll. “On the Road,” for example, stretched 120 feet. His last scroll, written in 1968, is the three-foot-long “Beat Spotlight,” a summation of Kerouac’s life, in which he laments that the media misrepresented his work. 

His writings and musings reveal an often-shiftless person, reckless, and when down-and-out, he found refuge with his mother. But Kerouac was determined to tell the story of life in America. The “act of writing seems holy to me,” he tells readers.

Kerouac died from cirrhosis of the liver in 1969 in Florida, near where his mother had moved.

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Review by Kate Padilla