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Brother-Souls - John Clellon Holmes, Jack Kerouac, and the Beat Generation


John Clellon Holmes, Jack Kerouac, and the Beat Generation

By Ann Charters & Samuel Charters
Paperback : 9781496853745, 464 pages, 29 b&w images, August 2024
Expected to ship: 2024-08-15

A biography of the two comrades whose friendship defined what it meant to be one of The Beats


John Clellon Holmes met Jack Kerouac on a hot New York City weekend in 1948, and until the end of Kerouac’s life they were—in Holmes’s words—“Brother Souls.” Both were neophyte novelists, hungry for literary fame but just as hungry to find a new way of responding to their experiences in a postwar American society that for them had lost its direction. Late one night as they sat talking, Kerouac spontaneously created the term “Beat Generation” to describe this new attitude they felt stirring around them. Brother-Souls: John Clellon Holmes, Jack Kerouac, and the Beat Generation is the remarkable chronicle of this cornerstone friendship and the life of John Clellon Holmes.

From 1948 to 1951, when Kerouac’s wanderings took him back to New York, he and Holmes met almost daily. Struggling to find a form for the novel he intended to write, Kerouac climbed the stairs to the apartment in midtown Manhattan where Holmes lived with his wife to read the pages of Holmes’s manuscript for the novel Go as they left the typewriter. With the pages of Holmes’s final chapter still in his mind, he was at last able to crack his own writing dilemma. In a burst of creation in April 1951, he drew all the materials he had been gathering into the scroll manuscript of On the Road.

Biographer Ann Charters was close to John Clellon Holmes for more than a decade. At his death in 1988 she was one of a handful of scholars allowed access to the voluminous archive of letters, journals, and manuscripts Holmes had been keeping for twenty-five years. In that mass of material waited an untold story. These two ambitious writers, Holmes and Kerouac, shared days and nights arguing over what writing should be, wandering from one explosive party to the next, and hanging on the new sounds of bebop. Through the pages of Holmes’s journals, often written the morning after the events they recount, Charters discovered and mined an unparalleled trove describing the seminal figures of the Beat Generation: Holmes, Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, and their friends and lovers.


"As this field develops and Holmes gets the recognition he deserves, this first-rate biography by Ann and Samuel Charters will be seen as the groundbreaking volume. . . . Superb research; clear, evocative writing; and professional packaging combine to distinguish John Clellon Holmes as a respected and important writer. Brother-Souls is a major work."

- Matt Theado, Journal of Beat Studies

"In the entire canon of Beat books, [Brother-Souls] is arguably the single most comprehensive view of the scene as it unfolded—and absolutely the most authoritative work on Holmes and Kerouac. It is the only book which comes to mind where the footnote pages themselves are a treat to read."

- Michael Hendrick, Beatdom

"As an acutely perceptive observer of the Beat literary scene during the Cold War years and as a writer with a profound and empathetic appreciation of the achievements and struggles of his fellow novelist Jack Kerouac, John Clellon Holmes was unparalleled. It is wonderful that Ann and Samuel Charters have brought this underappreciated writer out of the wings and moved him to the center of the stage in their fascinating and informative portrayal of an important, twenty-year literary friendship that survived the tensions of competition and emulation. It is particularly exciting to be able to read the brilliant and at times wrenching extracts from the unpublished journals that contain some of Holmes’s best and boldest writing."

- Joyce Johnson, author of Minor Characters: A Beat Memoir, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in Letters, 1957–1958

"John Clellon Holmes has remained in Jack Kerouac’s shadow long enough. This marvelously written volume finally pushes Holmes into the sunlight alongside Kerouac—which is right where he belongs. By comparing and contrasting the two writers, Ann and Samuel Charters have placed Holmes in his legitimate spot alongside the others in the pantheon of mid-century American writers. Readers will find it surprising that the writer whose opinion Kerouac counted on most belonged not to Allen Ginsberg or William S. Burroughs, but to John Clellon Holmes. He shines in his own light for the first time in Brother-Souls."

- Bill Morgan, coeditor of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters and author of The Typewriter Is Holy: The Complete, Uncensored History of the Beat Generation

"The John Clellon Holmes–Jack Kerouac friendship, as this book’s title indicates, was special and important. Kerouac coined the term ‘Beat Generation’ during a conversation with Holmes, and Holmes as an early reader of the On the Road scroll. Samuel and Ann Charters, in a book that is part biography and part literary history, examine a relationship that was sometimes fragile, sometimes strong, and they tell the story in a way that sheds new light on the life and times of the Beat Generation writers. A wonderful and valuable addition to the Beat canon."

- Michael Schumacher, author of Dharma Lion: A Critical Biography of Allen Ginsberg and Will Eisner: A Dreamer’s Life in Comics