One of the first novels of the Beat movement of the 1950s, On the Road, by Jack Kerouac, is published on this day in 1957. The novel chronicles the cross-country wanderings of a Kerouac-like hero, Sal Paradise, and his pal Dean Moriarty, and their free-ranging encounters with drugs, free love, and the budding counterculture. The book, which Kerouac wrote in just three weeks, became an instant classic.
Although a credo of the Beat-inspired Hippie movement of the 1960s was “Never trust anyone over 30,” Kerouac was 35 when the book came out. He had long been associated with the Beat movement when On the Road came out, and the novel is filled with characters based on Beat figures like Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs.
Kerouac was born in March 1922 in Lowell, Massachusetts. The son of French-Canadian parents, he learned English as a second language. In high school, Kerouac was a football star and won a scholarship to Columbia University. In World War II, he served in the Navy but was expelled for severe personality problems. He became a merchant seaman. In the late 1940s, he wandered the United States and Mexico and wrote his first novel, The Town and the City. His later novels included The Dharma Bums (1958), The Subterraneans (1958), and Lonesome Traveler (1960). Kerouac was a heavy drinker when he died in Florida from an internal hemorrhage, at the age of 47, on October 21, 1969.