John Clellon Holmes, a sometime-member of the crowd of friends that would become famous as the Beat Generation, wrote the first published works to herald their significance. Less controversial and experimental than Jack Kerouac or Allen Ginsberg, Holmes had the sensitivity to realize that their confused values and poignant ambitions were symbolic of something outside their small universe, and he published a novel, Go, which presented characters based on Kerouac, Ginsberg and Neal Cassady in 1952, five years before Kerouac would turn the same cast of characters into legends with On The Road.
Holmes was born on March 12, 1926 in Holyoke, Massachusetts and gravitated as a young man towards the literary social circles of New York City. He met Jack Kerouac at a party when both were young unknowns, and they struck up a strong friendship on the basis of their interest in writing. One day in 1948 Holmes asked Jack Kerouac to think of a way to describe the unique qualities of his generation, and Kerouac came up with the term ‘Beat Generation’ on the spot. Four years later, having stirred up lukewarm media interest with the novel ‘Go,’ Holmes was asked to write an article about the young people of his time for the New York Times Magazine. Recalling the earlier conversation with Kerouac, he titled the piece ‘This is the Beat Generation,’ thus introducing this phrase to the world. Check out the original text of this article, or click here for more on the origin of this term.
John Clellon Holmes married and settled in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. He remained close friends with Jack Kerouac until Kerouac’s death in 1969. There are some poignant stories in Barry Gifford’s oral biography Jack’s Book about some of Jack’s last, lonely visits to Old Saybrook to enjoy the domestic pleasures of Holmes’ quieter existence with his wife. Holmes died in Middleton, Connecticut on March 2, 1988, leaving behind three novels and several books of poetry, essays and memoirs.
UPDATE: Sam and Anne Charters published a revealing book about John Clellon Holmes in 2010.