After years on the road, multiple drafts, and arguments over edits, Jack Kerouac at last saw the publication of the book that would put him on the map — On the Road — on this day, September 5, in 1957. He and his girlfriend, Joyce Johnson, who would become an author in her own right, excitedly went to see how the Beat Generation novel was received by the media:
Together they picked up a copy of the midnight edition of the September 5 The New York Times and headed over to Donnelly’s Bar to read the review that would shift his fortune.
The reviewer, Charles Poore, enamored with Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and Bernard Malamud, had passed on reviewing On the Road because of illness. Had he been the reviewer, the fate of the novel might have changed. Such was Poore’s clout that many publishers determined their publication dates based on who would write the book review that day. Poore’s day was Thursday, but this Thursday, the Bronx-born Gilbert Millstein, who had been working for the Sunday department since 1949, had filled in and appraised On the Road as a cultural milestone:
“On the Road” is the second novel by Jack Kerouac, and its publication is a historic occasion in so far as the exposure of an authentic work of art is of any great moment in an age in which the attention is fragmented and the sensibilities are blunted by the superlatives of fashion (multiplied by a millionfold by the speed and pound of communications).
The critic predicted that though the vast majority of book reviewers would misunderstand the intentions of its author and that the work would be misconstrued as superficial, the writing itself was the “most beautifully executed, the clearest, and the most important utterance yet made by the generation Kerouac himself named years ago as ‘beat,’ and whose principal avatar he is.”
Continue reading the story of how Kerouac’s On the Road came to be published and how it has been perceived throughout history in the book I coauthored with Paul Maher Jr., Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Lulu. Join our community of beatific readers on Facebook and Goodreads for more exclusive snippets, news, and readings.
A few more celebratory links:::
- Is On the Road a classic? asks Salon.
- Read about On the Road‘s ever-evolving cover design here.
- Earlier this summer I sent to see the infamous “Joan Anderson letter” that inspired Kerouac’s writing style, which I blogged about here.
- I explained what exactly those roman candles that Kerouac waxes poetic about are here.
- I explore the character of Rollo Greb here.
- Tim Z. Hernandez talked with me about Kerouac’s Mexican Girl.
- I wonder about On the Road‘s dilemma here.
- Lastly, here are 20 reasons to read On the Road.
September 7, 2016 — Correction: Jack Kerouac’s girlfriend, mentioned above, was Joyce Johnson. She is the author of Minor Characters, which won a National Book Critics Circle Award. Her most recent book is The Voice Is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac.