Kesey, Ken Elton

(1935–2001)
   Ken Kesey is best considered as a bridge between the Beats and their inheritors, the hippies, as he is associated more with the West Coast countercultural phenomenon during the 1960s than he is with the luminaries of the Beat movement. Kesey is best known for his novel one flew over tHe cuckoo’s nest and for being a member of the psychedelic experimentation group The Merry Pranksters, who met and befriended allen ginsberg, jack kerouac, hunter s. thompson, and timothy leary. The Grateful Dead were the house band for some of the Pranksters’ infamous acid tests. “Furthur,” the bus driven by the group, eventually found its final resting place on Kesey’s Oregon farm.
   Kesey was born on September 17, 1935, in La Junta, California, to Fred and Geneva Kesey. He was raised in a Baptist household in Colorado and Ken Kesey, Oakland, 1966. Photographer Larry Keenan: “Fugitive Ken Kesey was giving a talk to some students at the California College of Arts and Crafts when I shot this picture. I sent Neal Cassady some prints. The FBI intercepted Cassady’s mail, found this photograph and put it on a wanted poster. It was the only current profile they had of Kesey.”
   Oregon and studied ventriloquism, illusions, and hypnotism as a child. His father took him on hunting trips to the Pacific Northwest, where Kesey would develop a sense of respect for nature. His athleticism extended into organized sports, and he was active in sports throughout high school and college. Kesey would eventually earn a wrestling scholarship to the University of Oregon. While at Oregon, Kesey married Faye Haxby, whom he had known since high school. He majored in communications and speech, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in 1957. During these studies, Kesey would be influenced by the technical style of television and film, such as multiple points of view and flashbacks, which would find a way into his fiction. After graduation, Kesey moved to California and enrolled in Stanford’s creative-writing program. While in California, Kesey was introduced to the Stanford Lane group, who styled their community after the North Beach Beats. At Stanford, Kesey studied with Malcolm Cowley, one of the editors at Viking who was most responsible for the publication of Kerouac’s on tHe road. During this time Kesey served as an aide at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Menlo Park. While there, he would participate in drug experiments where he was paid to take various hallucinogens and report on their effects. These experiences provided him with material for his first novel, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, published in 1962. The novel details the antagonism between Randle Patrick McMurphy, a work-shirking prison inmate who has himself committed to an insane asylum, and Nurse Ratched, who controls the ward. This first novel establishes the major theme that would run throughout most of Kesey’s fiction—the individual versus a repressive social structure. Shortly after Cuckoo’s Nest, Kesey attached himself to the group of psychedelic explorers, including neal cassady, known as The Merry Pranksters. In 1963 the group set out in their multicolored bus Furthur (a combination of farther and future) from California with the ultimate goal of attending the New York World’s Fair and the publication party for Kesey’s next novel, sometimes a Great notion. This large novel chronicles the actions of the Stampers, a family of loggers breaking a strike in their lumber community. This second novel would seal Kesey’s fame as young writer in the American countercultural movement, but it would also be his last for quite some time. Tom Wolfe chronicled the exploits of The Merry Pranksters and their famous bus trip and acid experimentations in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968). Paul Newman starred in the film Sometimes a Great Notion released in 1971.
   In 1966 Kesey fled to Mexico after staging a suicide to escape marijuana possession charges in San Mateo, California. This is chronicled in the short story “Over the Border,” published in his next book in 1973, Kesey’s Garage Sale. Kesey eventually returned to California to serve a short sentence. He expressed a desire to quit writing and turn to more experimental forms of expression at the time of his arrest, and this seemed actually to be the case for a while. After his prison and workhouse term, Kesey moved to the relatively secluded town of Pleasant Hill, Oregon, near Eugene. Although Kesey would not publish much throughout the 1960s and 1970s, he was still an active writer. He would collect the shorter works written during these decades in the collection Demon Box in 1986. Many of these stories center on Kesey’s experience in the countercultural movement and show a more mature opinion of the somewhat radical lifestyle that he advocated in his heyday. This is perhaps because of the iconic status that Kesey had achieved by the time he moved to Pleasant Hill. Many hundreds of hippies and would-be beatniks flocked to his residence, which was surely a strain on the author’s patience.
   In 1974 Kesey began to publish a periodical in Oregon titled Spit in the Ocean. The sixth and seventh issues of the magazine are of particular importance. Number six is a tribute to Neal Cassady, the model for Kerouac’s character Dean Moriarty in On the Road. (This is Kesey’s closest biographical link to the Beat Generation.) The seventh issue is “All About Ken Kesey” himself; it was published as a book by Penguin in 2003. Each issue of Spit in the Ocean was guest-edited by a friend of Kesey’s, such as Timothy Leary, who would choose the theme of the issue. Seven Prayers for Grandma Whittier, a long fictional interior monologue written by Kesey, is serialized in the seven issues of Spit in the Ocean, one episode per issue.
   Though the stage version of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest starring Kirk Douglass had been critically panned in 1963, the critically acclaimed film version of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest starring Jack Nicholson in 1975 was a tremendous success, despite Kesey’s disapproval.
   Kesey was working on a novel called Sailor Song when his son Jed died in 1984. This inaugurated a period of writer’s block that Kesey could not begin to overcome until he began to work on Caverns, an archaeological murder mystery written by Kesey and a group of graduate students at the University of Oregon. One year before this experimental novel was released in 1989, Kesey published a children’s book, Little Tricker the Squirrel Meets Big Double the Bear, about a clever squirrel who thwarts a local bully. Another children’s book, The Sea Lion, was published in 1991. Kesey eventually completely overcame his writer’s block concerning “adult” audiences and published Sailor Song in 1992. The novel is set in the future where environmental damage that is caused by humans has reached its apex. The final work published during Kesey’s life is another experiment in genre for the author: 1994’s Last Go Round can best be described as a pulp western. One posthumous publication, Kesey’s Jail Journal was published in 2003. This collection is a series of short prose, illustrations, and poetry, much like Kesey’s Garage Sale. Ken Kesey died on November 10, 2001, in Eugene, Oregon, following complications from liver surgery.
 Bibliography
■ Leeds, Barry. Ken Kesey. New York: Unger, 1981.
■ Porter, Gilbert M. The Art of Grit: Ken Kesey’s Fiction. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1982.
   Donovan Braud

Encyclopedia of Beat Literature. . 2014.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Kesey, Ken Elton — ▪ 2002       American writer (b. Sept. 17, 1935, La Junta, Colo. d. Nov. 10, 2001, Eugene, Ore.), became an icon of the counterculture with both his first book, One Flew over the Cuckoo s Nest (1962), and his hippie lifestyle as he and a group of …   Universalium

  • Kesey, Ken (Elton) — born Sept. 17, 1935, La Junta, Colo., U.S. died Nov. 10. 2001, Eugene, Ore. U.S. writer. He attended Stanford University and later served as an experimental subject and aide in a hospital, an experience that led to his novel One Flew over the… …   Universalium

  • Kesey, Ken (Elton) — (17 sep. 1935, La Junta, Col., EE.UU.–10 nov. 2001, Eugene, Ore.). Escritor estadounidense. Asistió a la Universidad de Stanford y más tarde sirvió de sujeto experimental y auxiliar en un hospital, experiencia que motivó su novela Alguien voló… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Kesey, Ken — ▪ American author in full  Ken Elton Kesey   born September 17, 1935, La Junta, Colorado, U.S. died November 10, 2001, Eugene, Oregon       American writer who was a hero of the countercultural revolution and the hippie movement of the 1960s.… …   Universalium

  • Ken Elton Kesey — noun United States writer whose best known novel was based on his experiences as an attendant in a mental hospital (1935 2001) • Syn: ↑Kesey, ↑Ken Kesey • Instance Hypernyms: ↑writer, ↑author …   Useful english dictionary

  • ken — /ken/, n., v., kenned or kent, kenning. n. 1. knowledge, understanding, or cognizance; mental perception: an idea beyond one s ken. 2. range of sight or vision. v.t. 3. Chiefly Scot. a. to know, have knowledge of or about, or be acquainted with… …   Universalium

  • Ken — /ken/, n. a male given name, form of Kendall or Kenneth. * * * (as used in expressions) Griffey Ken Kesey Ken Elton Saro Wiwa Ken * * * …   Universalium

  • Ken Kesey — Infobox Writer name = Ken Kesey birthdate = birth date|1935|9|17 birthplace = La Junta, Colorado deathdate = death date and age|2001|11|10|1935|9|17 deathplace = Pleasant Hill, Oregon occupation = Novelist, short story writer, essayist… …   Wikipedia

  • Ken Kesey — noun United States writer whose best known novel was based on his experiences as an attendant in a mental hospital (1935 2001) • Syn: ↑Kesey, ↑Ken Elton Kesey • Instance Hypernyms: ↑writer, ↑author …   Useful english dictionary

  • Kesey — noun United States writer whose best known novel was based on his experiences as an attendant in a mental hospital (1935 2001) • Syn: ↑Ken Kesey, ↑Ken Elton Kesey • Instance Hypernyms: ↑writer, ↑author …   Useful english dictionary

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