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Kerouac in Context

ENGL 016.304
instructor(s):
MW 2-3:30 pm
fulfills requirements:
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major

This course will take an in depth look into the life and career of one of the most influential writers of the 20th Century, Jack Kerouac (1922-1969). Born Jean-Louis Kérouac to immigrant parents from north of the border, the famed author of On the Road grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts, speaking only French until he was 6 years old, and becoming fully bilingual only in his late teens. And yet, this son of a printer and factory worker, this football player and Ivy Leaguer, this open-road hitchhiker and reclusive hermit, this Proustian Joyce, this Catholic Canuck, this budding Buddhist, somehow ended up labeled “King of the Beats,” and leaving an indelible, transnational impact on literature and culture. Today, all his works are still in print and continue to be translated into new languages around the world. This seminar will explore the historical and cultural context in which Kerouac lived and died—childhood in the Great Depression, the advent & aftermath of World War II, the rise of containment vs counter-culture, the birth of cool, bebop, and rock n’ roll, the highway act of 1956, hippie and drug culture, and so on—as well as that of his immediate counterparts & collaborators like Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Amiri Baraka, Diane DiPrima, Robert Frank, and others. Assignments will consist of brief weekly responses to the readings, one or two short essay(s), and will culminate in an oral report on Kerouac’s international reception.