Recently, I read Jack Kerouac’s novel, Tristessa, which didn’t take long but it was an unpleasant experience. Not long after, I came across the following prediction in James West’s Conversations with William Styron from 1962: “A writer like Jack Kerouac is of no great significance. At best he is an example of the slightly ‘mad’ type, like most Beatniks anyway, but I believe his work to be neither interesting nor of any lasting effect.” In the next seventeen years, Styron would publish The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie’s Choice. I’ve read the latter four times.
Last year, my friend Yael fell in love with haiku, and was particularly taken with Kerouac’s style of writing them. This past week, I went back to see which of the three-line poems I highlighted in my Library of America edition of Jack’s Collected Poems. Remembering Styron’s dismissal of Kerouac from sixty years ago, I decided to inspect the complete list of authors in the LOA. Kerouac has four titles, Styron none.