[Northport, NY]: April 13, 1961. Collection of three pieces documenting Jack Kerouac's engagement with one of the earliest academics to publish on his work. Includes a 2 page Typed Letter Signed and dated April 13, 1961, a 13 page carbon typescript of Granville Jones' draft of Jack Kerouac and the American Conscience with Kerouac's handwritten notes and corrections on four pages, and the transmittal envelope with the author's Northport, NY address. Unfolding only four years after Kerouac's novel On the Road, this interaction provides scholars with unique opportunities for considering how and at what rate Kerouac's views on writing, politics, identity, and culture shifted, how the academy perceived Kerouac and the Beats in their own time, and the extent to which Kerouac valued scholarly discussion regarding his literary career and creations. A graduate student at the time he contacted Kerouac, Jones would finish his thesis in fulfillment of Columbia University's graduate degree requirements; and it would be revised and published in 1963 in Lectures on Modern Novelists, which was part seven of the Carnegie Series in English. Among the earliest scholarly pieces written about Jack Kerouac and his published works, Granville Jones' thesis and later article is one of only five academic pieces reported by OCLC on the subject between 1957 and 1963.
Upon the 1957 release of On the Road, Gilbert Millstein lamented in his September New York Times review that despite being of historic importance as "an authentic work of art...it will be condescended to by, or make uneasy, the neo-academics and the 'official' avant-garde critics, and it will be dealt with superficially elsewhere as merely 'absorbing' or 'intriguing.'" But he stresses that Kerouac's novel marks his generation as distinct in outlook and experience from its predecessors the Lost Generation and the Depression Generation. "The Beat Generation was born disillusioned; it takes for granted the imminence of war, the barenness of politics, and the hostility of the rest of society...It does not know what refuge it is seeking, but it is seeking" (Millstein).
The value of Kerouac's work and its articulation of a specific American moment was not lost on Granville H. Jones as he completed his graduate degree at Columbia University in 1961. Rather than delving into the existing literary canon for his thesis topic, Jones opted to emphasize a living writer who voices "a constant awareness of America and being American" and who uses "autobiography to picture more clearly, more honestly, the America he knows" (American Conscience, draft). In this sense, Jones sought to build the next phase of the American canon.
Unlike those scholars studying long-dead authors, Jones had an opportunity to contact Kerouac -- something he did on at least two occasions. In the April draft of his thesis, he quotes extensively from "a letter in 1960" where Kerouac describes "the vision of America being destroyed by the beatnik movement which is not the 'beat generation'" (American Conscience, draft). This same draft (marked in Kerouac's hand throughout, and near this quotation to clarify that the beatniks are "psuedo-intellectual, professionally political") is accompanied by further discussion in a two page letter. There, Kerouac expands on his thoughts, describing how beatniks search out "a chance to dissent at a safer level" rather than living out their resistance (TLS). As he considers how Jones' thesis positions him among other literary greats, Kerouac also takes the chance to articulate where he sees himself. In key ways, he pushes an association between himself and Walt Whitman. "As you know, Whitman loathed Bohemians too. He was a loner...I can just see Whitman crossing Washington Square Park during a Sunday afternoon folkmusic riot and going out the other end alone...you must realize it will be hard for you to fit me into your theory of American poetry...I have as many contradictions as those infidel stars of Walt's...I like to pray alone. And drink alone" (TLS). He also distances himself from some of his own contemporaries. Noting that he is "constantly upbraided because I won't join them (Ginsberg, et al) in attending various dull functions where 'everybody' gathers, such as poetry readings and silly new plays" he highlights the importance of individuality in art rather than conforming to a movement (TLS). Indeed, he asserts, "I entirely disapprove of Camus' injunction that you cannot be an artist today without a total commitment to liberal policies...France adores this cretin" (TLS). For Kerouac, correspondence with Jones was not a casual matter. It was, rather, a chance to influence how an academic saw him. In doing so, he might gain "that Academic recognition that would bring importance to his art, and not the temporary admiration for the wrong reasons coming from the wrong thinkers" (Maher). It was a means for creating a lasting legacy.
Between this 1961 draft and the final publication of Jack Kerouac and the American Conscience two years later, Jones conducted extensive revisions to the piece. Clearly shaped by his first-hand experience with Kerouac, Jones' commitment to the writer's legacy has expanded. But even as his own voice grows in eloquence and authority, Jones retains the most important phrasings the author provided him in the draft annotations. These, authentically Kerouac's, are present in this article, which laid the groundwork for Kerouac studies.
An unpublished letter, which does not appear in Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters and which, along with the accompanying annotations, opens the door for scholars and collectors to seriously consider Kerouac's collaboration with an academic scholar on shaping his literary legacy. Near Fine (Item #5027)