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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 Kerouac. 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 Century, 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: ellenrecycles@yahoo.com). A revised edition of Memory Babe will be published in 2020 by Cool Grove Press.


Ken McGoogan
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First Highlander Awards celebrate excellence


The first-ever Highlander Awards were conferred yesterday  evening at a quiet ceremony involving drams of Lagavulin. Created to mark the launch of Flight of the Highlanders, and consisting of shout-outs, kudos, and widespread recognition, they celebrate excellence in five categories.
The Best Bookstore Display Award went to Biblioasis in Windsor, where Theo Hummer went the extra mile . . . as you can see in the magnificent presentation above.
Kew-Balmy Beach in the Toronto Beaches took The Best Landing Site Award. At this location,  Highlanders thundered ashore in their hundreds.
The Best Book Review honors  went to Dean Jobb, whose stellar review appeared in The Scotsman. Jobb, whose latest book is The Murderous Doctor Cream, concludes that "in a time of rising intolerance toward minorities and immigrants, Flight of the Highlanders is a much-needed reality check.
McGoogan’s chronicle of how impoverished but tenacious Scots built new lives in Canada – and transformed their new country – is a reminder that all of us, regardless of origin or race, want the same things: a better life and a brighter future."
The Best Collage Celebration Award proved to be no contest. The folks at Neilson Park Creative Centre, led by Alison Lam, launched a new authors' series with Flight of the Highlanders and swept the category. 
Last but not least, after a hard-fought battle, The Best Excerpt Award went to Canadian Geographic for its gorgeous presentation (see below). Hats off to all the winners. Oh, and slangevar!




Ken McGoogan
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New book revels in firsts: talk, series, review



Mine was the first presentation in a first-ever series of author readings that launched today at the Neilson Park Creative Centre in Etobicoke. I called my talk When the Highlanders Came to Canada: Dragging History into the 21st Century. From Type Books, manager Beck Andoff turned up with maybe 30 copies of Flight of the Highlanders . . . and sold all but three of them. Alison Lam organized and launched the series . . . and after I spoke lined up to buy five copies of the book. That's what I call leading by example.
Meanwhile, the first review of the book turned up in The Scotsman on October 3. You can access the original by clicking here. Written by Dean Jobb, whose latest book is The Murderous Doctor Cream, the review notes  that Scots played a key role in the creation of Canada, but "it took more than a couple of visionary politicians to build a new nation. Scottish farmers and their families – driven from their lands by the hundreds of thousands and “packed off to the colonies like so many bales of manufactured goods,” as one contemporary noted – did the heavy lifting. These “persecuted” and “dispossessed emigrants,” author Ken McGoogan reminds us, battled “hardship, hunger and adamant rejection in a New World wilderness” as they “went to work laying the foundations of a modern nation”.
The review continues:
"In Flight of the Highlanders, the bestselling Canadian author argues that the Highland Scots – victims of the Clearances and the oppression that followed the Battle of Culloden – were “Canada’s first refugees.” And that makes their story a timely reminder of the contribution refugees and other newcomers have made, and continue to make, to their new homelands. Today, almost five million Canadians claim Scottish heritage. . . .
McGoogan, who has chronicled Arctic exploration and Canada’s Scottish heritage in previous books, draws on extensive travels and research in Scotland to trace the origins of these refugees and the injustices that drove them overseas. While this will be familiar territory for Scottish readers, he soon moves to the North American phase of the story. Large-scale resettlement began in 1773, when the Hector – a tiny “coffin ship” crammed with almost 200 people – survived a hurricane and landed at Pictou, Nova Scotia. Waves of “brave-hearted Highlanders” followed, among them some unfortunates who settled in the United States, remained “loyal” during the American Revolution and were then driven northward in a second exodus.
Canadians of English, Irish and French descent, whose ancestors also helped to build their country, may bristle at the focus on Scottish immigrants. And the subtitle is a little jarring, as Canadians own up to an ugly legacy of mistreatment and assimilation of indigenous peoples; the arrival of the Scots and other European settlers, as the author acknowledges, was the unmaking of their Canada.
But in a time of rising intolerance toward minorities and immigrants, Flight of the Highlanders is a much-needed reality check. McGoogan’s chronicle of how impoverished but tenacious Scots built new lives in Canada – and transformed their new country – is a reminder that all of us, regardless of origin or race, want the same things: a better life and a brighter future.
(Photos by Sheena Fraser McGoogan.)
Ken McGoogan
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Before turning mainly to books about arctic exploration and Canadian history, Ken McGoogan worked for two decades as a journalist at major dailies in Toronto, Calgary, and Montreal. He teaches creative nonfiction writing through the University of Toronto and in the MFA program at King’s College in Halifax. Ken served as chair of the Public Lending Right Commission, has written recently for Canada’s History, Canadian Geographic, and Maclean’s, and sails with Adventure Canada as a resource historian. Based in Toronto, he has given talks and presentations across Canada, from Dawson City to Dartmouth, and in places as different as Edinburgh, Melbourne, and Hobart.