One of America’s greatest writers once wished he was born and raised in North Dakota – InForum
FARGO – Jack Kerouac was an interesting guy. He was a respected writer and poet who coined the term “beat generation”, a literary movement that defined New York’s nonconformist youth culture in the 1950s – the “beatniks” of post-1950s America. war that challenged everyone to see the world through new eyes.
But Kerouac is also the guy who, 73 years ago this month, wrote that he wished he had been born and raised in Dickinson, ND.
Eh? Surely there weren’t many beatniks in the Badlands in 1949. What gives?
Well, it turns out the famous writer got stuck in a snowstorm in Dickinson in February and he was pretty flabbergasted by it all – not so much the weather, but the people.
The story still resonates all these years later. Earlier this month, Kevin Carvell, a former political reporter and top aide to former U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, shared Kerouac’s diary entry. As of this writing, the post has been shared over 120 times.
Why was Kerouac in North Dakota?
Kerouac was born in Massachusetts, but from 1947 to 1950 he embarked on a cross-country journey that would later be the inspiration for his best-known novel, “On the Road.” Amazon describes the book as a “classic novel of freedom and the search for authenticity that defined a generation.”
During his travels, Kerouac journaled his experiences. According to The New Yorker, the diaries (written from 1947 to 1950) were not published until after Kerouac’s wife died in 1990. Kerouac had died in 1969.
Here is the journal entry featuring Kerouac stuck in the Dickinson blizzard.
February 9, 1949 — North Dakota
The crazed bus driver nearly ran off the road on a sudden low snowdrift. It didn’t faze him in the least, until a mile from Dickinson we came across impassable galleries and a traffic jam in Black Dakota at midnight blown by heather winds from the plain of the Saskatchewan. There were lights, and lots of men in sheepskin working with shovels, and confusion – and (the) most freezing cold there, 25° below, I judge cautiously.
Another eastbound bus was blocked, along with many cars. The cause of the congestion was a small panel truck carrying slot machines to Montana. Eager young men with shovels came from the small town of Dickinson, most wearing red baseball caps, led by the sheriff, a strong, jolly boy of about twenty-five. Some of the boys were fourteen or even twelve. I thought of their mothers and wives waiting at home with hot coffee, as if the traffic jam in the snow was an emergency affecting Dickinson himself. Is it the “isolationist” Middle West? Where in the decadent-thinking Orient would men work for others, for nothing, at midnight in howling, icy winds?
Where in the decadent-thinking Orient would men work for others, for nothing, at midnight in howling, icy winds?
Jack Kerouac – February 9, 1949 journal entry after being rescued by townspeople after becoming stuck in a North Dakota blizzard
We on the bus were watching. From time to time, a boy came to warm up. Eventually the bus driver, a maniacal and good man, decided to pile in. He shot the diesel engine and the big bus crashed through drifts. We swerved into the panel truck: I think we may have hit a jackpot. Then we swerved into a brand new 1949 Ford. Pan! Pan! Finally, after an hour of work, we were back on the dry ground. At Dickinson, the cafe was packed and full of excitement on Friday night about the ice jam. I wish I was born and raised in Dickinson, North Dakota.
The success Kerouac had with the book about his cross-country travels brought him instant fame and has been called a defining work of post-World War II America. With attention, Kerouac was heralded as “The King of the Beatniks”.
He never liked this title, although he contributed to the publication of 12 other novels. None were as successful as “On the Road”. The following years are difficult for him. He died in 1969 at the age of 47 from alcohol-related causes.
However, his work has endured, impacting generations to come, including artists like Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Grateful Dead and Jim Morrison.
Readers can contact Forum reporter and columnist Tracy Briggs at [email protected]