On this day in 1956: Jack Kerouac, Beat Generation icon-in-the-making, sits down at his sister’s kitchen table in Rocky Mount and begins writing a novel.
Since Kerouac, 33, arrived last spring he has been drinking moonshine, suffering nightmares about H-bombs and waiting for a publisher to accept his oft-spurned “On the Road.”
With his hosts away on a trip, Kerouac begins filling a tiny pocket notebook with the story of his brother Gerard’s death a year earlier. Fueled with benzedrine, he will write furiously for 15 straight nights. After each session he walks across a cotton field to a pine forest to meditate with his brother-in-law’s hunting dogs. He sleeps in a sleeping bag on a cot on the back porch with the windows wide open.
When the manuscript is finished, he will write a friend that it is “a beaut, my best. . . . Enuf to make Shakespeare raise an eyebrow.”
Reviewers are less enthralled. When “Visions of Gerard” is finally published in 1963, Newsweek calls it the work of a “a tin-ear Canuck,” while The New York Times Book Review dismisses it as “garrulous hipster yawping.”