Joyce Johnson’s Minor Characters, a memoir about coming of age in the 1950s and the Beats, won a 1983 National Book Critics Circle Award. The most recent of her eight books is The Voice Is All, a biography of Jack Kerouac. (October 2019)


‘You Got Eyes’: Jack Kerouac and Robert Frank’s Shared Vision

Joyce Johnson and Jack Kerouac, New York City, 1957

Robert’s black-and-white prints immediately reminded me of Jack’s word pictures in On the Road. Here was the reality beyond the sidewalks of New York that I hoped to see one day with my own eyes, if only Jack would take me along on one of his cross-country road trips. I didn’t know that he was becoming far too famous to make them anymore. Years later, the images I saw that day would become famous themselves: the trolley in New Orleans with the lineup of white and black faces in its windows that told the story of Southern segregation; the unforgettably stony expression of a lunch-counter waitress in Hollywood. When I came to the empty highway in New Mexico, with its mysterious radiance and its white stripe leading toward some vanishing point in the descending dusk, I thought to myself, Wow! There’s Jack’s Road! “Jack has to see these,” I told Robert. As soon as Jack came out of his meeting, I introduced them.