Jack Kerouac was born in 1922 in Lowell, Massachusetts. Along with Ernest Hemingway, he is thought to be one of America's most influential writers. In 1957, he published his most famous book, On the Road. On the Road inspired a generation to take off and travel across America in search of freedom and adventure.
At 17, Jack Kerouac won a football scholarship to Columbia University in New York City. A knee injury stopped his chances of becoming a major football star and he began to take a more serious interest in writing. While visiting some familiar haunts, such as Times Square, he became friends with Alan Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Gregory Corso. These writers formed the nucleus of what came to be known as the Beat Generation. They were a group of writers who would push literary boundaries and were open to all new experiences.
Neil Cassady was another friend who arrived on the scene and was to have a huge influence on Jack Kerouac. Cassady was a free spirited drifter, a car-thief and ex-convict who himself aspired to be a writer. Together, Cassady and Kerouac made a legendary car journey across America which would be the basis of On the Road.
Jack Kerouac had already written a considerable amount in a fairly conventional style before On the Road. Influenced by Cassady's stream-of-consciousness letters and the exciting jazz music he heard in New York's clubs, Kerouac began to develop a new writing style. His writing motto was, first thought, best thought, and the book was a rambling first person narrative. Basically autobiographical, the book portrays Jack Kerouac as Sal Paradise and Neil Cassiday as Dean Moriarty.
On the Road, published in 1957, was a huge success and hailed by some as the great American novel. Jack Kerouac became famous overnight. He was seen as the voice of a generation that was disillusioned with traditional American values. Although painfully shy, he appeared on talk shows from coast to coast. He also recorded albums of his poetry set to the music of jazz musicians of the era.
In the years that followed, Jack Kerouac wrote many more books of prose and poetry, but none came close to the success of On the Road. Some of his books include Desolation Angels, Big Sur, The Dharma Bums and Visions of Cody. All were autobiographical and can be read as a timeline of Kerouac and his friend's lives. On the Road was recently selected as one of the most influential books of the twentieth century. The original manuscript sold at auction for 2.4 million US dollars (USD) and Kerouac's iconic image was recently used to sell Khaki pants for Gap clothing.
Jack Kerouac died at the age of 47. In his later life, he had distanced himself from his Beat contemporaries and had begun to rely heavily on alcohol. Every year, thousands of people travel to Lowell to visit his grave. They come to pay their respects to a man who loved life, freedom and adventure and inspired generations to do the same.