Jack Kerouac: A Birthday Salute
First Edition of the On the Road, 1957
Today is the birthday of Jack Kerouac. Best known as the father of The Beat Generation his spontaneous prose style changed the game, bringing a fresh approach to the novel. Kerouac’s iconic status shows no signs of letting up. All is books are still in print and his masterpiece On the Road remains a defining work of the postwar Beat and Counterculture generations.
Many of his books exemplified the spontaneous approach, including On the Road, Visions of Cody, Visions of Gerard, Big Sur, and The Subterraneans. The central features of this writing method were the ideas of breath (borrowed from Jazz and from Buddhist meditation breathing), improvising words over the inherent structures of mind and language, and not editing a single word (much of his work was edited by Donald Merriam Allen, a major figure in Beat Generation poetry who edited some of Ginsberg’s work as well). Connected with his idea of breath was the elimination of the period, preferring to use a long, connecting dash instead. As such, the phrases occurring between dashes might resemble improvisational jazz licks. When spoken, the words might take on a certain kind of rhythm, though none of it pre-meditated
To celebrate, here’s a look at some Kerouac material currently floating around the marketplace.
Original painting of Kerouac’s sainted brother Gerard by Jack Kerouac, 1962. Signed “Kerouac” in upper left hand corner of painting in paint, signed “Jean-Louis Kerouac” in pen on back of canvas. Offered by beat book shop.
Copy of Kerouac’s Visions of Cody inscribed by Allen Ginsberg, who wrote the introduction, to his lover Peter Orlowsky. McGraw-Hill, 1972. Offered by Peter Harrington
The mantra in the inscription is adapted from the so-called Heart Sutra Dance (Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha – Going, Always Going, Going Beyond, Further Beyond, Completely Gone to Buddhahood, Svaha – So Be It) and relates almost too perfectly to the great scandal which would eventually lead to Nixon’s demise.
Dharma Bums. Viking, 1958. First Edition, First Printing. Offered by Burnside Rare Books.
Lobby cards and one sheet made to promote the film adaptation of The Subterraneans. Despite being produced by a major movie studio and starring famous actors Leslie Caron and George Peppard the movie was a financial flop. Allen Ginsberg derided it for its two dimensional characters and shallow portrayal of the beat culture. Offered by Aquila Books.
Wake Up. Penguin Books, 2008. First printing of the UK edition. Introduction by Robert Thurber. First publication of Kerouac’s life of the Buddha, published on the 50th anniversary of Dharma Bums. Offered by Book Patrol.
Broadside which has excerpts from his poem, “Orizaba 210 Blues.” This is the scarce, limited edition broadside with a superb wood cut illustration by Kenneth Patchen. “Printed by Kriya Press of Sri Ram Ashrama, Pleasant Valley, New York, 1968.” Limited edition of one hundred copies of which this is number 85. Offered by Nudelman Rare Books.
Book of Dreams. City Lights Books, 1961. First Edition First issue. Cover photo of Jack Kerouac by Robert Frank. Offered by Quintessential Rare Books.
Top image: a beautiful copy of the first edition of On The Road offered by Captain Ahab’s Rare Books.
Jack Kerouac’s Birthday | Allen Ginsberg Project