Jack Kerouac in Brooklyn


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March 5, 1958, Vol. III, No. 19

The Day Kerouac Almost, But Not Quite, Took Flatbush

By James Breslin

[No, not that Jimmy Breslin — Tony O.]

“Man, how come I like your book, but I don’t like you?” This remark was made amid loud jeering while Jack Kerouac played “meet the author” last Tuesday evening for Brooklyn college students.

Every campus Bohemian, Hobohemian, and Subterranean had donned crew-neck sweater, taken pen and notebook in hand, and marched right down to that lecture to find out just what this crazy Kerouac and his beat generation are all about, anyway.

Jack, however, who had left Columbia “because I quite the football team and had to start paying tuition,” declined to make any pronouncements for the academy.

“What’s the beat generation’s outlook on life?”

“It’s an illusion.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s an illusion, not real–man, you ought to know, you go to college!”

The simmering hostility of the crowd boiled up as Kerouac identified his literary influences as Dostoevski and Walt Kelly. He calmly informed the Brooklynites that he wrote because he was bored, and published to make money.

Jack further declared that he was a story-teller and preacher, like Dostoevski, and that his writing, like a Chinaman, “spits forth intelligence.”

When a student inquired whether Kerouac was at present sober, Danny Price, one of Jack’s bushed entourage, broke in:

“There’s probably not one person in this room who doesn’t think he can write a book. But remember, this guy you’re putting down has written one.”

“Why don’t you answer our questions?” someone complained.

“I’m a Zen Master,” replied Kerouac.

The prosecution rested, and the defense opened with two energetic readings by poets Philip Lamantia and Howard Hart. A French horn blew a muted background.

Then the Kerouac group interrogated the crowd.

“What about love–nobody has even mentioned love?”

With an answer forthcoming, Lamantia read his poem on love to close the hearing.

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]