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Jack Kerouac’s Former Girlfriend and Biographer Talks the Beats at HuffPo

By Harriet Staff

Joyce Johnson, Kerouac’s former girlfriend and author of The Voice Is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac, published last month, has written a column on the birth of the Beat Generation at the Huffington Post.

One of the many surprises tucked away in the vast Jack Kerouac Archive at the New York Public Library is the tiny pocket notebook in which Kerouac reacted in the fall of 1947 to a conversation he’d just had with his mother. She had been horrified by a story in her morning paper about bands of abandoned children living in caves in a remote part of Italy, who were ravaging the countryside in their search for food and having sex and babies as early as 13. Jack’s mother wanted the Pope to step right in and put a stop to this. Her son wrote in his notebook: “I want to go there.”

…The Beat Generation was born all at once in Kerouac’s mind in late November during a long talk with [John Clellon] Holmes about what the 1920s writers Gertrude Stein had called the “Lost Generation.” Jack stopped the conversation with, “You know this is really a Beat Generation!” Since 1945, he, as well as Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, had made beat part of their vocabularies after first hearing it uttered by a drug addict and petty thief named Herman Huncke. Long before it meant black stockings, berets and Bongo drums, beat was a coded word for those in Jack’s circle, signifying a state of mind they all could identify with after the war–the feeling that came from being exposed to the extremes of experience, but being able nonetheless to look outward and upward. For Jack, who had been raised as a devout Catholic, it had another meaning–beatific.

Can’t get enough of the beats? Read the full post here.

Posted in Poetry News on Friday, October 12th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.