Contrary to popular belief, Jack Kerouac, famed author of the quintessential American road narrative On the Road, was a native French speaker. Born in the U.S. to French Canadian parents who had migrated to New England, Kerouac did not speak English until he was 6 years old. With the opening in 2006 of the Jack Kerouac archive came the discovery that Kerouac had also composed many texts in his native French. These writings are now available for the first time in La vie est d’hommage, edited by Penn’s Jean-Christophe Cloutier, while the two longest, both novellas, appear in English translation in The Unknown Kerouac: Rare, Unpublished & Newly Translated Writings, edited by Todd Tietchen and translated by Cloutier. These publications reveal Kerouac as essentially an immigrant writer, one whose extraordinary style emerged as a fusion of his native and adopted languages.
Our panel of Kerouac experts considers the ways that we have always been reading Kerouac in translation, and how his fundamental bilingualism informs the immense impact he continues to have on global literature and culture.
Jean-Christophe Cloutier teaches twentieth-century and contemporary American literature at the University of Pennsylvania. A native of Québec, Cloutier recently edited a volume of Jack Kerouac's comprehensive original French writings for Les Éditions du Boréal entitled La vie est d'hommage (2016). He has also translated into English Kerouac's two French novellas, "Sur le chemin" [On the Road: Old Bull in the Bowery] and "La nuit est ma femme" [The Night is My Woman], for an upcoming edition entitled The Unknown Kerouac: Rare, Unpublished, & Newly Translated Writings (ed. Todd Tietchen), by The Library of America (forthcoming September 2016). His current book project explores the interplay between the archival and aesthetic strategies of American novelists, including Claude McKay, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Jack Kerouac, Patricia Highsmith, and Stephen King.
Cultural historian Ann Douglas teaches twentieth-century American literature, film, music, and politics at Columbia University. She is widely known for making the Beats an accepted part of Columbia University's institutional culture, participating in Beat Night at West End. She is author of the highly acclaimed book The Feminization of American Culture, as well as Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920's, which received, among other honors, the Lionel Trilling Award from Columbia and the Merle Curti Intellectual History Award from the Organization of American Historians. In addition, Douglas wrote the Introductions to recent editions of two Kerouac books, The Dharma Bums (Penguin, 2000) and The Subterraneans (Penguin, 2001). She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Geoffrey O'Brien, Editor-in-Chief of the Library of America, is an American poet, editor, book and film critic, translator, and cultural historian. He began publishing poetry and criticism in the 1960s. He has been a contributor to the New York Review of Books, Artforum, Film Comment, The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, Village Voice, New Republic, and Bookforum. His work has appeared in numerous anthologies, and he has published in many periodicals, among them The Los Angeles Times Book Review, Mother Jones, The Nation, Slate, and the Boston Globe. He was a finalist for the 1994 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism, with other honors including the Whiting Award, Guggenheim Fellowship, Rockefeller Fellowship, and Bosch Public Policy Prize Fellowship with the American Academy in Berlin.
Todd Tietchen teaches Beat literature and postwar American fiction at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, where he is co-director of the Jack and Stella Kerouac Center for the Public Humanities. Tietchen's 2013 lecture series on Kerouac's Lowell novels is archived on the Center's website, jackkerouac.com. He is the author of The Cubalogues: Beat Writers in Revolutionary Havana, and has served as editor of three separate volumes of the works of Kerouac: The Haunted Life and Other Writings (Da Capo, 2014), Visions of Cody, Visions of Gerard, Big Sur (Library of America, 2015), and The Unknown Kerouac: Rare, Unpublished, and Newly Translated Writing (Library of America 2016).