Jack Kerouac was born Jean Louis Kerouac in Lowell, Massachussetts on March 12, 1922. His attended Lowell, Massachussetts High School, the Horace Mann School for Boys, Columbia College, and the New School for Social Research, for liberal arts. He played football and baseball, ran track, and was on chess teams.He quit college in his sophomore year after a fight with his football coach.
As a child, Kerouac found amusement in taking long walks, writing extensive diaries and short stories, and playing sports. He was a smart child and skipped the sixth grade. At age seventeen he decided he wanted to become a writer. At age eighteen he decided he wanted to travel the country. While at Columbia College, he often cut classes to stay in his room and read or write.
His first formal novel, The Town and the City, was written from 1946 to 1948, and published by Harcourt Brace in 1950. He soon discovered "spontaneous prose," and began writing novels very quickly. The Subterraneans was written in three nights, and his most famous book, On the Road, was written in three weeks.
Most of Kerouac's "sponataneous" novels he considered to be a part of a series he called "The Duluoz Legend." He wrote mainly autobiographical novels, only changing the names. For example, On the Road contained several characters modeled directly from well-known Beatnik figures such as Neal Cassady (Dean) and William Burroughs (Lee). The book described his adventures with Cassady travelling cross-country, and it epitomized what would come to be known as the Beat Generation to the world. Kerouac says in the book that "The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes 'Awww,'" and indeed his works are full of mad and fabulous characters. He also wrote six books of poetry.
It was in fact Kerouac himself that accidentally named this literary/social movement. In 1948 he was conversing with John Clellon Holmes, discussing the nature of generations. While discussing their own generation, Kerouac remarked, "Ah, this is nothing but a beat generation," not meaning to name the generations, but "to unname it." But in 1952 Holmes wrote an article for The New York Times called "This is the Beat Generation." The epithet caught the public eye, and the name stuck. Herbert Huncke once said that the original street usage meant "sleepless, wide-eyed, perceptive, rejected by society, streetwise...and at the same time wide-open and receptive to vision."Kerouac tried to point out the specific meaning to the word by pointing out its connection to words like beatitude and beatific-"the necessary beatness or darkness that precedes opening up to light, egolessness, giving room to religious illumination."
Kerouac died in St. Peterburg, Florida on October 21, 1969 at the age of forty-seven.