Carolyn Robinson studied at Bennington College, the expensive liberal-arts school in Vermont that recently produced the excellent novelist Donna Tartt and several less-than excellent novelists as well (Hi, Bret). After graduating from Bennington, she enrolled as a graduate student at the University of Denver. But Denver was the stomping ground of Neal Cassady, and it’s fun to imagine the startling change of direction her life must have taken once Neal swept her up in his arms.
Neal and Carolyn married, had children, and lived together through the fifties and early sixties. She was represented often in the novels of Jack Kerouac, who appears to have respected and loved her more than was characteristic for him. After Neal and Jack died, some of Carolyn’s memoirs about her relationship with both men were published as a book, ‘Heart Beat.’ This was made into a movie starring Sissy Spacek, Nick Nolte and John Heard. Later, Carolyn wrote the more complete story of her life with Neal and his Beat friends, and this fascinating book, “Off The Road,” stands as one of an unofficial trilogy of popular memoirs by the women the Beats loved and too often ignored, along with Joyce Johnson’s “Minor Characters” and “How I Became Hettie Jones” by Amiri Baraka’s ex-wife Hettie Jones.
Both Carolyn and Neal were influenced by the latter-day Western mystic Edgar Cayce, who was popular in their era. Both Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg discouraged Neal from his interest in Cayce’s teachings, considering it not much more spiritual than astrology and a low-rent bastardization of Eastern thought. Carolyn, however remained interested in and respectful of “Caycean” thought long after Neal’s death.
Carolyn is now living in England, but often visits the United States to visit her son and daughters, and to participate in Beat-related conferences and events.
Tim Bowden has written a wonderful memoir of his relationship with Carolyn a few years after Neal’s death.