The Voice Is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac
In The Voice Is All, Joyce Johnson, author of Minor Characters, her classic
memoir about her relationship with Jack Kerouac, brilliantly peels away
layers of the Kerouac legend to show how, caught between two cultures
and two languages, he forged a voice to contain his dualities.
Looking more deeply than previous biographers into how Kerouac’s French-
Canadian background enriched his prose and gave him a unique outsider’s
vision of America, Johnson tracks Kerouac’s development over the first thirty
years of his life, from his boyhood in Lowell, Massachusetts during the Great
Depression through the phenomenal breakthroughs of 1951 that resulted in
the composition of On the Road, followed by the first sections of Visions of Cody.
By illuminating Kerouac’s early decision to sacrifice everything to his work,
The Voice Is All deals with him on his own terms and puts into perspective
the tragic contradictions of his nature and his complex relationships with his
remarkable circle of friends, the women whose lives he passed through, the father who never understood his
choices, and the mother who enabled his writing but never let him go.
The Voice Is All presents a revelatory portrayal of Kerouac not only in the midst of his tumultuous existence in
postwar Manhattan and his fateful encounters with Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Neal Cassady and John
Clellon Holmes, but in the periods of solitude, frustrating struggle and visionary inspiration that produced his
It shows Kerouac as a lifelong prodigious reader and astute critic, as a conscious and uncommonly dedicated
young artist with a kind of idiosyncratic perfectionism. It sheds new light upon the composition of On the Road,
documenting how Kerouac’s legendary “spontaneous” writing was preceded by three years of abandoned novels
in which characters, episodes, and story lines were reshuffled, and reveals for the first time that the most important
literary influence upon the writing of On the Road was Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night. It liberates Kerouac
from the inadequate and misleading label “King of the Beats,” and creates a new, even more haunting and
compelling image of him, drawn from what he himself wrote in his private papers.
This groundbreaking, much needed biography significantly deepens our understanding of Kerouac’s
achievement as a writer and will change the way his books are read in the twenty-first century.
Joyce Johnson’s eight books include the 1983 National Book Critics Circle Award winner Minor Characters,
the recent memoir Missing Men, the novel In the Night Café, and Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in Letters
1957 – 1958 (with Jack Kerouac). She has written for Vanity Fair and the New Yorker and lives in New York City.