The Secret Canadian Life of Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac On The Radio

American Beat writer Jack Kerouac (1922 – 1969) leans closer to a radio to hear himself on a broadcast, 1959. (John Cohen/Getty Images)

In 1957, the publication of On The Road created a sensation. It was hailed as a great prose poem of the United States; it was also reviled as an undisciplined mess. It immediately became an enormous bestseller. Since its release, it has been treated as one of the foundational texts of American letters. It has never been out of print.

Its author, Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac—Jack Kerouac—became an overnight celebrity. The handsome, shy, charming devout Catholic was lionized as the voice of a new generation, the Beats. For his part, he thought of the Beats as “a generation of beatitude and tenderness.” But much to his distress, he and the Beats became symbols of reckless freedom, sexual licence and self-indulgence.

In 2006, the Kerouac archive was opened at the New York Public Library. Its contents were a revelation. Diaries, letters, essays and whole novels were found written in French. Kerouac, the avatar of the new America, was, in fact, Canadian. He was born in 1922 to parents who had fled Quebec in the great exode, seeking work in the U.S. Kerouac spoke only French until he was six and did not lose his accent fully until he was 20.

Read the rest here.


The Unknown Kerouac – Library of America

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Here be the contents:

“On Frank Sinatra” – a short essay from a handwritten journal (May 6 – July 21, 1946)

“America in World History” – a short essay from a handwritten journal (September 23, 1946)

“A Couple of Facts Concerning Laws of Decadence” – a short essay from a handwritten journal (September 3 – October 9, 1946)

“On Contemporary Jazz – “Bebop”” – a short essay from a handwritten journal (February 24 – May 5, 1947)

Private Philologies, Riddles, and a Ten-Day Writing Log – journal (including a one-act play and  short prose) (May 1949 to 1950)

La nuit est ma femme (The Night Is My Woman) – novella (February 1951)

Journal 1951 – (August – November 1951)

On the Road: Old Bull in the Bowery (Written in French Patois) – prose (1952, Mexico City)

Tics – prose (1952-1953)

Memory Babe – novella (November 1957-June 1958)

“Doing Literary Work: An Interview with Jack Kerouac” – interview by John Clellon Holmes (June 1963)

Beat Spotlight – prose fragment (circa 1968)

I Wish I Were You – novella (1945)



















Revisiting Book of Sketches

book ofsketchesOn moving to the Carolinas, re-reading Book of Sketches and reading Kerouac’s one-off impressions of this region as well as other places like Mexico City and New York, it is driven home to me how uncanny was his eye, and how sharp was his brain.

There is a passage when Kerouac writes of his brother-in-law, Paul Blake Sr., whom he perceives as a man of the south, and in whom he also perceives is a model figure of  the intrinsic sorrow of mankind.

It is pure, empathetic and insightful:


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Blake didn’t necessarily approve of his brother-in-law’s lifestyle. He perceived Jack as lazy and a layabout. But Jack, to his credit, stuck to his guns and used the friction in the Blake household as a means of observation and attenuated through his sensitive awareness of things, and in the pages of his little notebooks, a capturing of the mortal strivings of his fellow man.

When I first saw these notebooks, the actual living testament in his scrawled handwriting, and before they were published in 2006, I saw the actual day-by-day work-in-progress of Jack’s world. I didn’t have time to read all of the Book of Sketches notebooks, and longed with deep urgency the publication of this masterwork. This was in 2001. To hold in my hands these notebooks was perhaps akin to touching an original Gutenberg Bible. A strange thrill rushed through my hands and it became, for me, one of the more important touchstones of my life.

Book of Sketches remains for me one of the most important books by Jack Kerouac.

I highly recommend that you not just read it online, or on your Kindle, but buy the small but thick book and keep it with you always. Read it when your waiting for a bus, or for a doctor’s appointment, or during your lunch break or at the DMV. Put your phone away and immerse yourself into the peculiar but infinitely rewarding world of Jack Kerouac.

“It’s Saturday in Mex City & the streets / lead to all kinds of fascinating / lighted vistas, movies, stores, pepsi / colas, whorehouses, nightclubs,/children playing in brownstreet / lamps & the sleep of the / Fellaheen dog in some old / grand doorway.”




Two translated letters from “Tristessa

Monica Isabel Perez of Mexico City was kind enough to translate two letters from Esperanza Zaragoza “Tristessa” to Jack Kerouac. Monica also shared that there is a documentary in the works about this subject in Mexico …



Mexico City, October 15th, 1955
Dear Jack.

It was nice to receive your letter. Josefina is fine, Luis and Roberto, too. La Pequita and the Beauty Dove send you greetings. You said that Mexico is a sweet, good and religious country and so you are. Also, receive warm regards from your friend Luis. Send regards to Burroughs. You said you are in California and we are very glad for you.

This is all your friend can say,



Mexico City, February 28th, 1956
Dear Jack,
I hope you to be well at the time you have this letter in your hands. Those are my best wishes. I’m fine, thank you. Remember I want you to write me to this address: Calle Aluminio 401 just in the corner with El Rastro Avenue, apartment 8. Mrs. Esperanza Zaragoza.

I hope you to be very happy all this year. Do not stop writing.

Kid regards with love and respect, your friend who loves you.

With any other concern, this is all what your friend who is waiting to see you has to say,

[written vertically: “Receive regards from Lupe”]

[backside of page]

Give a kiss to your wife and kid. La Chirri and I send you a hug. And answer me whenever you have time to do it, if not I will get mad with you.