Born on March 12, 1922 in Lowell, Massachusetts, Jack Kerouac was the youngest son of French Canadian parents. French was spoken at home and young Jack only began to learn English at the age of six. He was fluent in French his entire life and some of his poetry is written in that language. His mother, with whom he was very close, was a devout Catholic. Kerouac, despite his heavy drinking and carousing, was deeply religious. He was also an excellent football player and earned a scholarship to Columbia University. A leg injury and a dispute with his football coach led Kerouac to drop out of Columbia after only one year. While living in New York City he met Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady and others--these individuals became members of the "beat generation" and appeared in Kerouac's books. At loose ends, he joined the merchant marines and then the navy, only to be medically discharged. After the war, Kerouac resumed his friendships and began his restless travels around the United States. He travelled with Neal Cassady-these experiences form the basis for perhaps his most famous book "On the Road." Cassady was a close friend who plays a big role in "On the Road." While the book was written in the late 40's, it was not published until 1957, edited to remove the more explicit language. The book made Kerouac somewhat of a celebrity and publishers began asking for other manuscripts.. "Dharma Bums" was published in 1958 and reflects Kerouac's interest in Buddhism and Zen. Despite his depression and alcoholism, he continued to write. These manuscripts would be published as novels e.g. "The Subterraneans," "Desolation Angels" and "Doctor Sax."
Kerouac was married three times. He was living in Florida with his invalid mother and third wife when he died in October, 1969 of massive internal bleeding. His wife described him as an isolated, lonely man at the time of his death, a man who still wrote, but who drank in excess and who was often depressed. All his books continue to be read. Numerous biographies have been written about his colorful life and articles appear analyzing his works. He is buried in a cemetery in Lowell, the town of his birth. The grave is often visited by readers of his books and poetry.