Writers in the Library goes on the road with Jack Kerouac’s biographer

Monday, March 14, Writers in the Library hosts Gerald Nicosia, author of Memory Babe, the definitive biography of Jack Kerouac and Home to War, a history of the Vietnam Veterans movement. The reading will begin at 7 p.m. in the Hodges Library Auditorium and is free and open to the public.

In 1951, Jack Kerouac spent 20 days typing the story of an aimless trek he made across America in one spontaneous, stream-of-conscious burst. The result is the classic novel On the Road, a single-spaced tome written on a 120-foot long scroll of tracing paper.

Kerouac’s 83rd birthday is on Saturday, March 12, and while we can’t spend the day with the godfather of the Beat Generation himself, we can spend a few hours with Nicosia, who dedicated years of his own life piecing together the details of Kerouac’s.

Nicosia conducted 300 interviews and collected thousands of letters and documents to write his nearly 800-page critical analysis of Kerouac’s life and work. The book earned him the Distinguished Young Writer Award from the National Society for Arts and Letters and is generally recognized as the consummate look at Kerouac’s life.

Nicosia is also well-known for his own poetry and fiction, but returned to nonfiction for his 2001 book Home to War, where he interviewed 600 Vietnam Veterans who became active in the antiwar movement or worked as veterans’ advocates. The book garnered great praise, including starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal. It was re-released in 2004 by Avalon Books with an introduction by Anthony Swofford, author of Jarhead.

A freelance journalist, interviewer, and literary critic for the past 27 years, Nicosia has contributed to hundreds of publications, including the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. He is currently at work on a book about the case of death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal and the death penalty in America, as well as a book about the FBI, John Kerry, and Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

The Writers in the Library series is sponsored by the University of Tennessee Libraries and the Creative Writing Program of the UT English Department. For further information, please contact Jo Anne Deeken, Head of Technical Services, UT Libraries, at 974-6905 or deeken@nullaztec.lib.utk.edu, or R.B. Morris, Writer in Residence, UT Libraries, at 974-3004 or rbmorris@nullutk.edu.

He was a man for whom nothing was secure, not even his name. He had been baptized Jean Louis Kirouac, son of Leo Keroack and Gabrielle L’Evesque. In the rectory of the poor unfinished St. Louis de France Church in Centralville, the nicest French section of Lowell, Massachusetts, his name meant so little that even a priest could carelessly misspell it.

-excerpted from Gerald Nicosia’s biography of Jack Kerouac, Memory Babe

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