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A Literarea Preview: 'The Voice is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac'

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The Voice is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac
By Joyce Johnson

In the category of most biographed1 author, Jack Kerouac seems to still reign supreme as evidenced by this the 12,653th biography2 to be published since his death in 1969. One would think that the territory would be well worn. However, this biography is written by Joyce Johnson, who was a steady part of Kerouac’s unsteady life from 1957, when she met Kerouac on a blind date, to his death twelve years later.


Johnson was already a writer by the time the two met. She had enrolled in Barnard College at the age of 16 and sold her first novel in 1957 at the age of 21, which was when she went on that date with Kerouac. And she was with Kerouac nine months later when the New York Times review of On The Road was published, turning the unknown Kerouac into a literary and cultural sensation over night. After Kerouac’s death, Johnson kept his legacy alive by getting Kerouac’s experimental novel Visions of Cody published. Many Kerouac devotees consider the book to be his masterpiece.

In The Voice is All, Johnson brings to light lesser known (and some unknown) facets of Kerouac’s life, in particular his French-Canadian upbringing. As a youth Kerouac spoke a Canadian dialect of French3 and struggled with English through high school. It was this constant translation and re-translation of words and phrases that informed Kerouac’s development as a writer, in particular his experiments with prose4. This combined with an early love for improvisational jazz5 that was nurtured by friends in college who were involved in the music industry6, resulted stream-of-consciousness writing in league with James Joyce and William Faulkner7.

Johnson’s book illuminates much of Kerouac’s development and digs deep into his heritage, from his youth in Lowel, Mass., during the Depression to his collegiate and post-war years in New York and beyond. And along the way, we meet a good portion of the Beat Generation: Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Neal Cassady, Herbert Huncke and John Clellon Holmes.

This is an excellent book for Kerouac fans and neophytes as it faithfully records Kerouac life (well-known) and punctuates it with new information that deepens our understanding of this complex and talented writer.

1 – Trademarked!
2 – A bit of an exaggeration, but a quick, shallow search revealed over two dozen titles.
3 – joual
4 – Or, as Kerouac called it, spontaneous bop prosody
5 – Dizzy Gillespie named a rendition of standard tune “Kerouac” because of a recommendation by the producer, Jerry Newman, who was a friend of Kerouac’s
6 – Seymour Wyse and the afore-footnote-mentioned Jerry Newman
7 – Which is the subject of the next Literarea section in the November/December issue of The Peorian


About the Author
A Juilliard-trained writer, Kevin Kizer has fought against numerous world-champion writers during his career, besting the reigning middle weight writing champion in an exhibition bout in Helsinki in 1976. He also played a crucial role on the U.S. gold-medal winning writing team during the 1984 Pan-Am games, where he came off the bench in dramatic fashion to write the winning prepositional phrase just as time expired.