Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Ken Kesey was born September 17, 1935, in La Junta, Colorado, the son of Fred A. Kesey and Geneva Smith Kesey, cooperative dairy farmers, both Baptists, both from farming/ranching families that valued self-reliance. His grandmother, the model for the spunky character Grandma Whittier, taught him a love of down-home yarns, tall tales, and biblical stories, while his strong-willed father communicated his love of the outdoors and of physical competition (hunting, fishing, arm wrestling). Kesey’s father described his son affectionately as always trying “to unscrew the unscrutable.” An avid reader and filmgoer, the young Kesey took John Wayne, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Zane Grey as his models (later naming a son Zane) and toyed with magic, ventriloquism, and hypnotism.
Kesey’s Springfield, Oregon, high school class voted him most likely to succeed. He played football as a freshman at the University of Oregon in Eugene before receiving a scholarship as the outstanding college wrestler in the Northwest. He majored in speech and communications, acted in a number of campus theater productions, joined Beta Theta Pi and got caught up in the fraternity scene, and spent summers in Hollywood trying out for parts in films. He tried his hand at short stories about his college experiences, and after graduation worked on a novel about college athletics. On May 10,...
(The entire section is 1428 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Ken Kesey, like his hero Neal Cassady, linked the 1950’s Beats with the 1960’s hippies, to glorify marginalized nonconformists and to denigrate organized systems that browbeat individuals to ensure conformity. Kesey transforms the local and the particular into the universal, so that the insane asylum of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the logging town of Sometimes a Great Notion, and the courtroom of The Further Inquiry become microcosms of the conflicts and trends of American society. His fiction demonstrates the importance of individualism and rebellion to social health, contrasting those traits with repression and dehumanizing institutions. Kesey captures the contradictions of America—its idealism and cynicism and the opposition of nature and technology, rural and urban, individual and community, the uninhibited and the repressed, the anarchical and the orthodox.
(The entire section is 131 words.)
Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Ken Elton Kesey was born in La Junta, Colorado, on September 17, 1935, to Fred A. and Geneva Smith Kesey. Kesey’s father shrewdly foresaw that the West Coast would be ideal for business ventures, and he moved his family to Springfield, Oregon, where he founded the Eugene Farmers Cooperative, the largest and most successful dairy cooperative in the Willamette Valley. The father taught his sons, Ken and Joe—the latter being called Chuck—how to wrestle, box, hunt, fish, and swim, and how to float the Willamette and McKenzie rivers on inner-tube rafts.
After attending the Springfield public schools and being voted most likely to succeed, Kesey enrolled in the University of Oregon at Eugene. In 1956, he married his high school sweetheart, Faye Haxby. During his undergraduate years, Kesey was an adept actor and seriously considered pursuing that career. He was also a champion wrestler in the 174-pound division and almost qualified for the Olympics. He received his bachelor of arts degree in 1957 and wrote End of Autumn, an unpublished novel about college athletics. In 1958, he enrolled in the graduate school at Stanford University on a creative-writing scholarship and studied under Malcolm Cowley, Wallace Stegner, Frank O’Connor, and James B. Hall.
During Kesey’s graduate-school years, two important things occurred that would influence his life and writing. The first occurred when he moved his family into one of the cottages on...
(The entire section is 1609 words.)
Ken Kesey created a bridge between the 1950’s Beat generation and the 1960’s hippie movement. He wrote other works of fiction and nonfiction, but none rivaled the success of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Few contemporary works have been so influential. Kesey attended creative writing classes while working nights as a psychiatric attendant at a Veterans Administration hospital, where he volunteered as a research subject to take such drugs as LSD-25, psilocybin, and mescaline. These experiences influenced his writing of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and his legendary bus trip with the Merry Pranksters.
In San Francisco, the bohemian lifestyle of the Beat generation was giving way to a more powerful counterculture revolution. Kesey influenced the transition, initiating mixed-media presentations with exotic costumes, strobe lights, sexual experimentation, freakouts, and Eastern mysticism.
One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, an indictment of American society and not only specifically of mental institutions, deals with conformity, authority, and social ills. It uses a colloquial style, myth, parables, and ironic commentaries to describe freedom, authenticity, cultural hegemony, and conformity. Kesey’s rugged American individualism, frontiersmanship, and self-sufficiency are imbued in his writings and activities. He was a descendant of two lines of farm families. His later novel, Sometimes a Great...
(The entire section is 423 words.)
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Ken Elton Kesey (KEE-zee) was one of the most important writers of American fiction of the 1960’s. He was born in La Junta, Colorado, a small farming town in the plains of that state, to Fred A. Kesey and his wife, Geneva Smith Kesey. In 1946, the family moved to rural Oregon, where Kesey remained for most of his life, except for a few years he spent in California in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. In 1956, Kesey married Faye Haxby, whom he had known since childhood. In 1957, he graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in speech and communication, and in 1960 he completed a two-year creative writing program at Stanford University. Considerably more influential upon Kesey and his work than his formal education, however, were the writer’s lived experiences. He was an athletic boy and young man, and he seriously participated in wrestling (he almost qualified for the U.S. Olympic team in 1960) and loved outdoor activities of all types. For a time, he tried to become an actor and worked in Hollywood on film sets. Kesey experimented with drugs, and in 1960 he participated in a drug-testing program conducted by the government. His work in a hospital psychiatric ward perhaps proved most influential of all Kesey’s experiences. Finally, his familiarity with the cultures and lands of the Pacific Northwest is well documented in much of his writing.
One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Kesey’s first published novel (his first novel,...
(The entire section is 973 words.)
Ken Kesey was bom in 1935 in LaJunta, Colorado. The family moved to Springfield, Oregon, where he attended public school before attending and graduating from the University of Oregon. While in college, he pursued drama and athletics. A champion wrestler, he nearly won a place on the U.S. Olympic team. After graduating, he worked for a year, thought about becoming a movie actor, and wrote an unpublished novel about college athletics entitled "End of Autumn." Kesey married his high-school sweetheart, Faye Haxy, in 1956, and the couple became the parents of three children. In 1958, Kesey began graduate work in creative writing at Stanford University in California, where he studied with several noted writers, including novelist Wallace Stegner. He wrote a second unpublished novel, "Zoo," before beginning One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in the summer of 1960. Around this time, he became a paid volunteer in government-sponsored drug experiments at the Veteran's Hospital in Menlo Park, California. There he was introduced to psychoactive drugs such as mescaline and LSD, and became a frequent user of them. He was under the influence of these drugs during some of the time he wrote this, his first published novel.
Cuckoo's Nest enjoyed considerable critical and popular success after its 1962 publication, becoming especially popular on college campuses. Kesey himself gained additional notoriety with a group of friends who titled themselves the "Merry...
(The entire section is 372 words.)