John Clellon Holmes

Biography of John Clellon Holmes

John Clellon Holmes (Holyoke, Massachusetts, March 12, 1926 - March 30, 1988) was an American author, poet and professor, best known for his 1952 novel Go. Considered the first "Beat" novel, Go depicted events in his life with his friends Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg. He was often referred to as the "quiet Beat" and was one of Kerouac's closest friends. Holmes also wrote what is considered the definitive jazz novel of the Beat Generation, The Horn.

Holmes was more an observer and documenter of beat characters like Ginsberg, Cassady and Kerouac than one of them. He asked Ginsberg for "any and all information on your poetry and your visions" (shortly before Ginsberg's admission into hospital) saying that "I am interested in knowing also anything you may wish to tell... about Neal, Huncke, Lucien in relation to you..." (referring to Herbert Huncke and Lucien Carr), to which Ginsberg replied with an 11-page letter detailing, as completely as he could, the nature of his "divine vision".

The origin of the term beat being applied to a generation was conceived by Jack Kerouac who told Holmes, "You know, this is really a beat generation." The term later became part of common parlance when Holmes published an article in The New York Times Magazine entitled "This Is the Beat Generation" on November 16, 1952 (pg.10). In the article, Holmes attributes the term to Kerouac, who had acquired the idea from Herbert Huncke. Holmes came to the conclusion that the values and ambitions of the Beat Generation were symbolic of something bigger, which was the inspiration for Go.

Later in life, Holmes taught at the University of Arkansas, lectured at Yale and gave workshops at Brown University. He died of cancer in 1988.

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