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.