On a blind date in Greenwich Village set up by Allen Ginsberg, Joyce Johnson (then Joyce Glassman) met Jack Kerouac in January 1957, nine months before he became famous overnight with the publication of On the Road. She was an adventurous, independent-minded twenty-one-year-old; Kerouac was already running on empty at thirty-five. This unique book, containing the many letters the two of them wrote to each other, reveals a surprisingly tender side of Kerouac. It also shares the vivid and unusual perspective of what it meant to be young, Beat, and a woman in the Cold War fifties. Reflecting on those tumultuous years, Johnson seamlessly interweaves letters and commentary, bringing to life her love affair with one of American letters' most fascinating and enigmatic figures.
They met in early 1957, eight months before the publication of On the Road made Jack Kerouac the most famous young writer in America. Some of the bitterest, saddest letters Kerouac wrote to his 21-year-old lover, Joyce Glassman, reveal the personal cost of the hysterical media attention that followed. Yet their early correspondence shows a side of Kerouac not always evident in his fiction: tender, spiritual, and supportive of Glassman's efforts to write her first novel. Now known as Joyce Johnson, she supplements the text of their epistles with commentary whose sensitive, rueful tone will be familiar to readers of her memoir, Minor Characters. The loving but independent air she assumed in her letters, Johnson notes, came from painful rewriting to eliminate all hints of hurt or need; as he wandered in and out of her life, Kerouac kept reminding her he didn't want to be tied down, even as he urged her to come visit whatever city he'd alighted in. Spiced with marvelously evocative period slang like dig and swing, and references to friends such as Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady, this poignant epistolary record of a 22-month love affair also brings to life an exciting moment in American cultural history, when the Beat writers gave "powerful, irresistible voices to subversive longings." --Wendy Smith