Happy Birthday Jack Kerouac!
While the men of the Beat Generation are often guilty of perpetuating the same misogyny of the larger culture, both in their lives and their writing, in challenging traditional expectations of masculinity, and likewise gender, they opened up a space for women to do the same. Kerouac’s “On the Road” may have driven many young men to emulate his movement across the country, but is also inspired many young women to challenge what was expected of them.
As Joyce Johnson writes in Minor Characters: “It was a time when books were still taken seriously, when writers could actually change things. In 1957, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac seemed to come from nowhere… They gave voice to the restlessness and spiritual discontent so many felt but had been unable to articulate. Powerful desires for a freer life were suddenly set loose by words with compelling irresistible rhythms. The Beat movement lasted five years and caused many young men to go on the road in emulation of Jack Kerouac. Young women found the pursuit of freedom much more complicated. Nonetheless, it was my revolution.”
Recently Johnson has written a critical biography of Kerouac that explores his French Canadian roots and the development of his literary voice: The Voice is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac.