U of O Helps Scholars Study Kesey In His Native Habitat

by | Nov 26, 2010

“Along the western slopes of the Oregon Coastal Range … come look: the hysterical crashing of tributaries as they merge into the Wakonda Auga River.” -Ken Kesey

According to The Register-Guard in Eugene, Faye Kesey is negotiating the sale of Ken Kesey’s library to University of Oregon, where the great American writer went to school and later taught creative writing.

The typed manuscript of “Cuckoo’s Nest” is among thousands of documents from Kesey’s literary life being stored by the University of Oregon library’s special collections department while the UO and the Kesey family negotiate the permanent acquisition of the material.

“This is the guy who took us from the beats to the hippies,” says James Fox, head of the UO’s Special Collections and University Archives.

From a literary perspective, Kesey is so much more than “the the guy who took us from the beats to the hippies.” He’s a 20th century master, who wrote not one, but two Great American Novels, then followed those with Sailor Song and other works.

Bob Keefer of The Register-Guard got a look at some of the documents in preparation for his article.

A quick tour of the contents of some of the boxes produced such treats as a September 1959 letter that Kesey sent to friend Ken Babbs. That was the year he wrote “Cuckoo’s Nest,” but had not yet found a publisher.

“Thus my plight,” the young Kesey typed. “A failure at 24, impotent both physically and artistically. If I haven’t taken a Gilette to my wrists by the time you people get here in March to cheer me up there may be hope. But I doubt it.”

It’s funny how we don’t think of our heroes or iconic Americans as people who had doubts and intense struggles en route to their success. Clearly they did struggle and did doubt. That’s the human condition, but it’s also the human condition to believe and to overcome.