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If you were ever a book-crazy teenager with a heart full of wanderlust, you’re probably very familiar with Jack Kerouac. But here are 14 facts about the author you may not know.
1. He didn’t speak English until he was five. He was first raised to speak Joual, French-English hybrid common among the French Canadians who settled in New England.
2. He always wanted to be a writer. He began writing novels at age 11, along with fictionalized accounts of horse races and sporting events.
3. He had a short-lived football career. He attended Columbia University on a football scholarship but broke his leg in the second game of the season.
4. He did a (very) brief stint in the Navy. After an on-again, off-again relationship with Columbia, he joined the Navy. He served only eight days of active duty before falling ill. He was honorably discharged six months later.
5. He married his way out of jail. In 1944, Kerouac was arrested in relation to a murder he may have witnessed. In order to post bail, he married his girlfriend, Edie Parker, thereby making her trust fund available to her.
6. He married his second wife after only knowing her a few days. In 1950, Kerouac married Joan Haverty, who had her memoir, Nobody’s Wife: The Smart Aleck and King of the Beats, published posthumously in 2000.
7. He wrote On the Road in an unedited burst. Before starting his work, he taped strips of tracing paper into one 120-foot scroll, to save him having to load paper as he went. Then he wrote his masterpiece in three weeks.
8. It took seven years to get On the Road published. Kerouac had a hard time finding a publisher who was willing to take a chance on his experimental style.
9. The original version of On the Road still exists. When Viking finally bought the book, they insisted the more sexually explicit passages be removed and the names changed. The original versions, both in original scroll form and edited into a single paragraph, have been sold at auction.
10. Kerouac had a hard time dealing with his eventual success. When On the Road finally was published, it made him the instant spokesperson for the Beat movement. He frequently showed up to interviews drunk, got angry quickly, and suffered a nervous breakdown in 1960.
11. His refused to acknowledge his child. Joan gave birth to Jan Kerouac in early 1952. Jack denied being her father until a paternity test nine years late finally proved him wrong. He only met his daughter twice.
12. He was surprisingly conservative. Despite his beatnik lifestyle, he was politically conservative and held on tightly to his childhood Catholicism (though he mixed the religion with Buddhism). He supported the Vietnam War and was close friends with conservative author and commenter, William F. Buckley.
13. He moved back in with his mother and developed some odd eccentricities. After his breakdown, he moved back to Long Island to live with his mother, took up drinking a cheap, sweet wine normally drunk by hobos, and started inventing card games.
14. All of his books are currently in print. All of his known works have been published, some posthumously, and are still in print.