New York State Writers InstituteGreater Capital Region Teacher Center
Greater Capital Region Teacher Center
KEN KESEYDied 11/10/01
Ken Kesey, UAlbany, 5/1/01)
UAlbany, 5/1/01 (credit: Judy Axenson)
April 27, 2001 (Friday) at 7:30 p.m.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

May 1, 2001 (Tuesday) at 8:00 p.m.
Reading & Discussion
by Ken Kesey

Page Hall, 135 Western Avenue
UAlbany, Downtown Campus

4:00 p.m. Seminar, Recital Hall, PAC
(All are Free and Open to the Public)

KEN KESEY is one of the pivotal figures of the Sixties, a promoter of psychedelic experimentation, the court-jester-in-charge of the Merry Pranksters, and a human bridge between the Beat and Love Generations. Kesey's first successful book, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962), is widely regarded as an American literary classic and continues to sell briskly, with total sales in the millions. A parable about freedom and totalitarian control, Cuckoo's Nest follows the experiences of Randle Patrick McMurphy, an irrepressible good-timer who has been transferred from a minimum security prison to a mental hospital, where he initiates a series of rebellions against the head nurse, Miss Ratched. The New York Times called the novel, "a glittering parable of good and evil. . .a work of genuine literary merit."

The book was made into a 1975 movie directed by Milos Forman, starring Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher. The film received five Oscars, including "Best Picture," the two top acting awards, "Best Director" and "Best Screenplay."

Ken Kesey is also well-known for his starring role in Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968), a nonfiction account of the cross-country travels of The Merry Pranksters, a counter-cultural roadshow that one California newspaperman called, "a day-glo guerilla squad for the LSD revolution." The group's escapades are also chronicled in Ken Kesey's Garage Sale (1973) a loose collection of materials from the Prankster Archives, housed on Kesey's farm in Pleasant Hill, Oregon.

Kesey's other early works include Sometimes a Great Notion (1964), an ambitious Faulkerian novel about a logging family's fight with a labor union; and Over the Border (1968), a screenplay in comic book style about a hero who discovers "The Skeleton Key to the Cosmos" after experimenting with drugs. Articles, short stories and essays appeared throughout the 1980s, including Demon Box (1986).

The 1990s witnessed renewed literary productivity by Kesey with the publication of The Further Inquiry (1990), a screenplay about a mock lawsuit leveled against the Merry Pranksters for subverting American society, and Caverns (1990), a collaborative mystery novel written with 13 of Kesey's graduate students in Creative Writing at the University of Oregon, Last Go Round (1994), and two children's books. A major novel, Sailor Song, appeared in 1992. The novel pits an aging eco-terrorist named Ike Sallas against a sinister Hollywood film company. Library Journal said Sailor Song, "veers dizzily between comedy and nightmare. . .[and is] as profane, exuberant and brimming with life as a whole collection of old sea ballads." Kesey's most recent book Last Go Round: A Dime Western (1994), was co written with longtime friend and co-Prankster Ken Babbs. Booklist said, "Ribald and folksy, the book captures the Old West multicultural milieu. . .crowded with cowboys, Indians and tourists."

The 64-year-old Kesey is presently working on a variety of projects, including a prequel to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and an autobiography told from the perspective of various animals. In August 1999, Kesey and a remnant of his Merry Pranksters took their trademark Magic Bus on a millennial tour of Great Britain. A novel, Seven Prayers by Grandma Whittier, a fictional account of Kesey's grandmother's battle with Alzheimer's disease, is due to be published shortly.

Ken Kesey, David Stanford, Page Hall
UAlbany, 5/1/01 (credit: Judy Axenson)

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