Black and white photograph of Jack Kerouac standing in profile against a building, smoking a cigarette.
Allen Ginsberg, "Jack Kerouac, R.R. brakeman's manual apocket, 206 E. 7 st. Fire Escape, N.Y.C. 1953," The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints, and Photographs, Photography Collection

March 12, 2022, marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of novelist, poet, and counterculture icon Jack Kerouac, one of the most influential American writers of the 20th century.

Raised in Lowell, Massachusetts, Kerouac entered Columbia University in 1940, already intent on becoming a successful author or journalist. Though he soon withdrew from school, he remained in New York City, and it was there he encountered the individuals who would shape his literary development—a group he later dubbed the Beat Generation.

The Town and the City, his first published work, appeared in 1950; however, it was On the Road, issued in 1957, that made him a celebrity, bringing the Beat Generation to the public's attention. Written in a jazz-inflected, stream-of-consciousness style, On the Road challenged the buttoned-up conventions of 1950s America, rejecting its middle-class notions of conformity and materialism. 

To Kerouac’s dismay, the media response to On the Road, which largely focused on the book’s then-sensational subject matter, overshadowed his creative achievements, denying his work serious critical consideration. Despite his growing disillusionment, he persevered, subsequently publishing a series of fictional and poetic works. Today, these writings, including The Subterraneans, The Dharma Bums, Big Sur, Desolation Angels, and Mexico City Blues, are appreciated for their inventiveness, beauty, energy, and insight into postwar American life.

On the occasion of his 100th birthday, The New York Public Library is honored to celebrate the life and work of Jack Kerouac, drawing from our extensive holdings of Beat Generation literature.

This display is organized by The New York Public Library and curated by Michael Inman, Curator of Rare Books.

Installation Views

Visions of Jack Kerouac: A Centennial Celebration opened on March 5, 2022 in the McGraw Rotunda in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.

photograph of the display case with items inside
photograph of the display case with items inside

Researching Jack Kerouac at NYPL

Hand-drawn cover design for On The Road by Jack Kerouac with the subtitle A Modern Prose Novel and the author listed as John Kerouac.
Sketch for "On the Road" cover design by Jack Kerouac, 1952, Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature

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Conserving Kerouac

photoof scroll in mylar

Kerouac's famous scrolls, some of which are housed at the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature at The New York Public Library, require careful preservation to maintain their value for future research use. Learn how NYPL paper conservator Denise Stockman treated two of Kerouac's scrolls.

Suggested Reading

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