Kesey, Ken

Alternative names
Birth 1935-09-17
Death 2001-11-10

Biographical notes:

Ken Kesey was a uniquely American author and cultural figure. His interest in the outdoors, the extraordinary, and experimental drug use inspired his first novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Equally vital as a member of the Merry Pranksters, the 1960s counterculture group, Kesey expressed and embodied an uninhibited individual's need to resist corrupt authority. His literary output was sparse, as he preferred experience to authorship, but his mantra of being different without being a threat continues to inform and entertain readers of his novels and exploits.

From the description of Ken Kesey letters and papers, 1963-1974. (Pennsylvania State University Libraries). WorldCat record id: 55998286

Ken Kesey (1935-2001), novelist.

From the description of Ken Kesey drafts and other material relating to Last go round, 1984. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 702198877

Ken Kesey (1935-2001) was born in La Junta, Colorado to Edward and Dulce Kesey on September 17, 1935. Later he moved with his family to Springfield, Oregon. A champion wrestler in both high school and college, he eloped with his high school sweetheart, Faye Haxby, right after they both graduated from high school and before Kesey entered college. They had three children, Jed, Zane, and Shannon. Kesey had another child, Sunshine, in 1966 with Carolyn Adams. Kesey attended the University of Oregon's School of Journalism, where he received a degree in speech and communication in 1957. He was awarded a Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship in 1958 to enroll in the creative writing program at Stanford University, which he did the following year and where he studied under Wallace Stegner (1909-1993). While at Stanford, Kesey volunteered to take part in a CIA-financed study named Project MKULTRA at the Menlo Park Veterans Hospital on the effects of psychoactive drugs, particularly LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, and DMT. Kesey wrote many detailed accounts of his experiences with these drugs, both during the Project MKULTRA study and in the years of private experimentation that followed. His role as a medical guinea pig inspired Kesey to write One flew over the cuckoo's nest in 1962. The success of this book, as well as the sale of his residence at Stanford, allowed him to move to La Honda, California, in the mountains south of San Francisco. He frequently entertained friends and many others with parties he called "Acid Tests" involving music (such as Kesey's favorite band, The Warlocks, later known as the Grateful Dead), black lights, fluorescent paint, strobes, and other "psychedelic" effects, and, of course, LSD. These parties were noted in some of Allen Ginsberg's poems and are also described in Tom Wolfe's The electric kool-aid acid test, as well as Hell's Angels: the strange and terrible saga of the outlaw motorcycle gangs by Hunter S. Thompson. In 1964, Ken Kesey took a mythic trip from the West Coast to New York City to celebrate the publication of his book, Sometimes a great notion. He was joined by a group of men and women called The Merry Pranksters (Neal Cassady, Carolyn Adams aka "Mountain girl," Ken Babbs, Ron Bevirt aka "Hassler," Betsy Flagg, George Walker, Chuck Kesey, Dale Kesey, John Babbs, Steve Lambrecht, and Paula Sundstren aka "Gretchen Fetchin"). In a 1939 bus painted in psychedelic colors and steered by Jack Kerouac's fabled companion, Neal Cassady (1926-1968), Kesey and the Pranksters set out on the ultimate road trip: an undercover mission in broad daylight that would take them through time, space, and the limitless magical landscape of the imagination. Their quest would be fueled by powerful potions of spiked orange juice, mixed by Kesey, with a brand new secret ingredient pinched from the laboratories of the Central Intelligence Agency--LSD. Not long after the legendary bus trip, Kesey was arrested for possession of marijuana in 1966. In an attempt to mislead police, he faked his own suicide by having friends leave the Merry Pranksters' truck on a cliffside road near Eureka, California, along with a suicide note that said, "Ocean, Ocean I'll beat you in the end." Kesey fled to Mexico in the back of a friend's car. When he later returned to the United States, Kesey was arrested and sent to jail for five months. Upon his release, he moved back to the family farm in Pleasant Hill, Oregon in the Willamette Valley, where he was to spend the rest of his life. He died on November 10, 2001 following an operation for liver cancer.

From the description of Ken Kesey Merry Pranksters collection, (bulk 1964-1969). (University of California, Los Angeles). WorldCat record id: 423650014


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  • Authors, American--20th century
  • Authors, American--20th century--Correspondence
  • Rodeos--Fiction
  • Authors, American--20th century--Archival resources
  • LSD (Drug)--Physiological effect
  • Cowboys--Fiction
  • Hippies--Travel
  • Bus travel
  • American literature--20th century


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  • Pendleton (Or.) (as recorded)
  • La Honda (Calif.) (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Oregon (as recorded)
  • New Jersey Turnpike (N.J.) (as recorded)
  • Manhattan (New York, N.Y.) (as recorded)