Gone in October: Last Reflections on Jack Kerouac

By John Clellon Holmes

 

 

He has awed me with his talents, enraged me with his stubbornness, educated me in my craft, hurt me through indifference, dogged my imagination, upset most of my notions, and generally enlarged me as a writer more than anyone else I know.” 

—John Clellon Holmes, from “The Great Rememberer” 

 

On the July 4th weekend of 1948, John Clellon Holmes (1926-1988) met Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) in New York City for the first time, and the two became lifelong friends. As young, ambitious novelists, Holmes saw Kerouac as a mentor and comrade in a literary movement eventually known as the Beat Generation. They shared New England roots and the same birthday. They were characters in each other’s novels, and they fed each other encouragement through letters and get-togethers at Holmes’s home in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, until Kerouac’s untimely death at 47, on October 21, 1969. 

Originally published in a very limited edition by Limberlost Press in 1985, Holmes’s essays/memoirs here reflect on Kerouac’s burning innovation as a writer, on their New England heritage, on attending his funeral with poets Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, and on the 1982 Naropa Institute celebration of the 25th anniversary of the publication of Kerouac’s novel On the Road, a gathering which Holmes saw as a last hurrah with other movers and shakers of the Beat movement. 

This new edition of Gone in October, newly designed and illustrated with more photographs, comprises a deeply heart-felt remembrance of literary friendship and personal loss, reprinted in commemoration of the 2022 Jack Kerouac centennial.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Born in Holyoke, Massachusetts on March 12, 1926, John Clellon Holmes wrote stories, poems, reviews, essays, and articles that appeared in major magazines and literary journals throughout the world. He’s perhaps best known for three novels—Go (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1952), The Horn (Random House, 1958), and Get Home Free (E. P. Dutton, 1964)—and the essay/memoir collection Nothing More to Declare (E.P. Dutton, 1967), a definitive work about the Beat movement and other eruptive post-World War II cultural shifts. These books were later followed by several more collections of poems and essays. His books have been translated into Danish, German, Italian, and Swedish, and have had wide circulation in the United Kingdom. 

Published in 1952 (five years before Jack Kerouac’s On the Road), Go is the first novel to refer to the “Beat Generation,” where Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Neal Cassady appear as thinly disguised characters. A few years after the novel appeared, he and his wife Shirley left the hubbub of New York for the quiet of Old Saybrook, Connecticut, where they bought a ramshackle Victorian house without plumbing or heat and made it into a home to live for the rest of their lives. 

Beginning in the mid-1960s, he began teaching as a visiting writer in the graduate writing programs at the Iowa Writers Workshop, Bowling Green State University, Brown University, and between 1976 and 1988 at the University of Arkansas. In 1987 and 1988, the University of Arkansas Press published three major collections of his essays—Representative Men: The Biographical Essays, Displaced Person: The Travel Essays, and Passionate Opinions: The Cultural Essays

Over the years, his work appeared in New York Times Magazine, Harpers, Poetry, Saturday Review, Neurotica, Partisan Review, Chicago Review, Wake, Esquire, Evergreen Review, Escapade, Nugget, Cavalier, Venture, Black Warrior Review, New Letters (where he won the 1978 Alexander Capon Prize), Penthouse, Playboy (where his essays won three awards for Best Nonfiction, including one for “Gone in October” in 1973), and more. 

He died of cancer at 62 on March 30, 1988.

 

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