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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: A revised edition of Memory Babe will be published in 2020 by Cool Grove Press.

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.