Today is the birthday of Beat novelist Jack Kerouac (books by this author), born in Lowell, Massachusetts (1922), to parents who were French-speaking Québécois. He grew up speaking French, and didn’t start learning English until grade school.
He was a track and football star in high school, and he got a football scholarship to Columbia in New York, where he met Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Neal Cassady. Jack Kerouac idolized Neal Cassady, and he typed the story of their cross-country adventures together on a single scroll of paper, 120 feet long, which was published in 1957 as On the Road. He depicts Neal Cassady — whom he calls Dean Moriarty — as a charismatic bad boy American hero. Kerouac took a backpacking trip with another friend whom he idolized, the poet Gary Snyder, and he turned Snyder into the character Jaffy Ryder and made him the hero of The Dharma Bums (1958).
From On the Road:
“I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn’t know who I was — I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I’d never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn’t know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds.”