The Dharma Bums, 1958
Jack Kerouac (1922–1969) was a leader in literature’s Beat movement, which rejected the societal norms of 1950s America. Kerouac was a novelist, poet, and visual artist whose free, conversational, jazz-inspired tone challenged contemporary critics and inspired generations of writers and artists. Kerouac is sometimes considered the intellectual father of the 1960s counterculture; his work and mindset influenced artists as diverse as Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Ken Kesey, and Hunter S. Thompson. Kerouac’s best known works include On the Road, Big Sur, and The Dharma Bums.
In this selection from The Dharma Bums (1958), Kerouac describes his attempt to climb Matterhorn Peak in the Sierra Nevada. This fictionalized account of an actual occurrence features three characters: Ray Smith, Kerouac’s alter ego; Henry Morley, the imagined version of Kerouac’s librarian friend John Montgomery; and Japhy Ryder, the book’s embodiment of Gary Snyder, fellow Beat writer and future Pulitzer Prize–winning poet.
Read by Gary Noy, Director, Center for Sierra Nevada Studies, Sierra College