Jack Kerouac

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See also Wikipedia's article about "Jack Kerouac".

Jack Kerouac is known as the Beat Generation author who wrote On the Road.

Ostensibly, he came to Columbia on a football scholarship. In reality, though, he had been recruited by more football-friendly Boston College, and chose Columbia for its New York literary connections instead. He turned fully to writing after a broken leg in 1940, his first year.[1] He enjoyed Professors Mark Van Doren and Raymond Weaver, and got an A in Van Doren's Shakespeare class (while flunking chemistry).[2]

Because he'd quit football, once his leg healed, Kerouac was forced to work as a waiter in John Jay Dining Hall to pay for his meal plan.[3] Kerouac tended to prefer the Lion's Den (now JJ's Place) in the John Jay basement, though, where he ate steak and ice cream to his heart's content.

The product of a working-class background, Kerouac was reportedly intimidated by other Columbia students' wealth and sophistication.[4] While at Columbia, Kerouac also did some sportswriting for the Spec, and had a weird relationship with Allen Ginsberg. He was also a member of Phi Gamma Delta. During these years, Kerouac was an avid sports fan; it has been recently been discovered that while here, he devised an elaborate fantasy sports system.

On Columbia housing

Kerouac moved from Hartley to Wallach Hall (then Livingston), which he much preferred, due to its superior view of Butler Library and its comparative lack of cockroaches. In his autobiography Vanity of Duluoz he expressed his hatred for Hartley:

"Here we stood in this sort of drear room overlooking Amsterdam Avenue, a wooden desk, bed, chairs, bare walls, and one huge cockroach suddenly rushing off."

...and his satisfaction with the move to Livingston (now Wallach):

"One great move I made was to switch my dormitory room from Hartley Hall to Livingston Hall where there were no cockroaches and where b'God I had a room all to myself, on the second floor, overlooking the beautiful trees and walkways of the campus and overlooking, to my greatest delight, besides the Van Am Quadrangle, the library itself, the new one, with its stone frieze running around entire with the names engraved in stone forever: 'Goethe... Voltaire... Shakespeare... Molière... Dante.' That was more like it. Lighting my fragrant pipe at 8 P.M., I'd open the pages of my homework, turn on station WQXR for the continual classical music, and sit there, in the golden glow of my lamp, in a sweater, sight and say, 'Well, now I'm a real collegian at last.'" [5]

On hanging out in Morningside Heights

Among other places around the neighborhood, Kerouac frequented the West End, Mondel's Chocolate, and Riverside Park. He noted that he:

"...hung around with Mike Hennessy as I say on that corner in front of the candy store on 115th and Broadway with William F. Buckley Jr. sometimes. Hobbled down to the Hudson River and sat on Riverside Drive benches smoking a cigar and thinking about mist on rivers..."[6]

On another occasion, Kerouac recalled

"the soft city evenings, the cries of 'Rimbaud!', 'New Vision!', the great Gotterdamerung, the love song 'You Always Hurt the One You Love,' the smell of beers and smoke in the West End Bar, the evenings we spent on the grass by the Hudson River on Riverside Drive at 116th St. watching the rose west, watching the freighters slide by." [7]


  1. [1]
  2. The Beat Generation in NY, p. 5
  3. The Beat Generation in NY, p. 7
  4. The Beat Generation in NY, p. 2
  5. Kerouac, Jack, Vanity of Duluoz, p.66
  6. Kerouac, Jack, Vanity of Duluoz, p.77
  7. Kerouac, Jack, Vanity of Duluoz, p.214