Kesey, Ken Elton

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Kesey, Ken Elton

Ken Elton Kesey, 1935–2001, American novelist and counterculture figure, b. La Junta, Colo.; grad. Univ. of Oregon (1957), Stanford Univ. (1960). While a student he volunteered for a hospital study of mind-altering drugs, substances that were to shape much of his life and work. He also briefly worked as a psychiatric ward attendant, an experience pivotal to the creation of One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962; film, 1975), his most famous novel, which details the struggle between rebellious individuality, represented by inmate R. P. McMurphy, and the forces of repression, personified by Nurse Ratched. Kesey's other books include the novels Sometimes a Great Notion, (1964; film, 1971), Sailor Song (1992), and Last Go Round (1994); and essays, stories, and children's books. He was also known as the leader of the Merry Pranksters, a group of travelers, stoked by LSD, who traversed the United States in a psychedelically decorated bus in 1964. Their exploits were described in Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968) and Kesey's The Further Inquiry (1990).

See studies by B. H. Leeds (1981), S. L. Tanner (1983), and P. Perry et al., ed. (2d ed. 1996); A. Gibney and A. Ellwood, dir., Magic Trip: Ken Kesey's Search for a Kool Place (documentary, 2011).

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