Gerald Nicosia - Kerouac: The Last Quarter Century (Corte Madera Store)

Wednesday, November 20, 2019 - 7:00pm

Forty years ago, Gerald Nicosia, midway through work on his landmark biography of Jack Kerouac, Memory Babe, was assigned by Oui magazine to write about all the universities teaching Kerouac. In 1979, he couldn’t find more than a handful, and his article was killed. Now, fifty years after Kerouac’s death, with hundreds of different books about the Beat Generation being grabbed up by fans and students alike, and every item the Beat King touched worth thousands of dollars, Nicosia takes a comprehensive look at Kerouac’s legacy, and how he went from a fading leader of beatniks, with most of his books out of print, to the pinnacle he occupies today, universally considered one of the top American writers of the twentieth century.

Although Nicosia remains one of the great champions of Kerouac’s work, he also looks honestly at the dark side of that legacy. The iconic American novelist and the Beat ethos he helped to create stood for gentleness, love, acceptance, and equal welcome to friend and stranger, what was known and what was not. The posture of his writing was always openness to experience—open heart, open door, and open mind. But as Gerald Nicosia narrates in his new book, Kerouac: The Last Quarter Century, the product of almost half a century of studying the Beats, Kerouac has now come to stand for censorship, greed, and exclusivity. Jack Kerouac had a real family, a daughter Jan who looked just like him, and was a gifted novelist herself, and a nephew, Paul Blake, Jr., with whom he loved to make up poems, shoot baskets, and talk for hours about football. But you would never know this from the claims that have been made about him by the family that now controls his legacy, the people who now reap almost the entire economic benefit from his lifetime of dedicated literary work. And they gained that benefit by virtue of a forged will, an incredible story that has been kept under wraps for a decade already since Judge George Greer in Pinellas County, Florida, ruled that Jack Kerouac’s mother’s will, leaving his entire literary estate to his widow Stella Sampas, was a forgery. 

Kerouac: The Last Quarter Century tells the story of that legal case, the trial, and the legal loophole that allowed the Sampas family to keep a stolen literary estate. Moreover, it gives chapter and verse on the piecemeal sale of Kerouac’s literary archive to collectors and dealers. The book recounts the battle of Jan Kerouac and Paul Blake, Jr., to recover their stolen inheritance, as well as the price paid by Nicosia in his efforts to support them. Nicosia’s support of Jan and Paul, he documents with significant evidence, was the cause of his name and accomplishments being erased from books, films, and other records of literary history, and was also the reason for Memory Babe remaining out of print for 18 years.

Kerouac: The Last Quarter Century does much else, examining a range of watershed events, from the auction of Kerouac’s roll manuscript of On the Road for a record $2.43 million to the discovery of Neal Cassady’s long-lost Joan Anderson Letter, regarded by many as the template for On the Road; as well as providing, in the words of Ed Sanders, “interesting final analyses of Kerouac’s writing practices, worthiness, demons, and life-decisions.”

Despite its chronicle of darkness, Kerouac: The Last Quarter Century remains an upbeat book. Writes Vietnam veteran poet W.D. Ehrhart, himself a disciple of Kerouac: “Nicosia concludes with a decency and generosity of spirit that is—given all that he has endured since the 1983 publication of Memory Babe, his monumental biography of Kerouac—simply astonishing.”

Location: 
51 Tamal Vista Blvd
Corte Madera, CA 94925