Biography of Gerald Nicosia

Born November 18, 1949, in Berwyn, Illinois, just outside Chicago, Gerald Nicosia received a B.A. (1971) and an M.A. (1973) in English and American Literature, with Highest Distinction in English, from the University of Illinois in Chicago. In the late 1970's, Mr. Nicosia traveled the United States and Canada, interviewing over 300 people who knew Jack Kerouac. His biography of Kerouac, Memory Babe (Grove Press, 1983), earned the Distinguished Young Writer Award from the National Society of Arts and Letters while still a work-in-progress in 1978. Upon publication, it garnered over 200 reviews worldwide, and has generally been recognized as the definitive book on Kerouac’s life and work. It has been translated into French, Spanish, and Czech, and is currently in print in a revised U.S. edition from the University of California Press.

Nicosia has been a freelance journalist, interviewer, and literary critic for the past 27 years, contributing to hundreds of publications, including the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today, the American Book Review, the Review of Contemporary Fiction, Contemporary Literary Criticism, and the New York Quarterly.

Nicosia has taught creative writing and journalism at the University of Illinois and the University of California, Los Angeles, and he has lectured and conducted workshops at dozens of other colleges and universities, including New York University, Northwestern University, Columbia College in Chicago, the New College of California, Evergreen College in Olympia, Washington, and Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. He has been a featured speaker at Beat and Kerouac conferences worldwide, including the Naropa Institute’s 25-year-anniversary celebration of On the Road in Boulder, Colorado, in 1982, the Beat Weekend at Plymouth Arts Centre in England, June, 1987, the Rencontre Internationale Jack Kerouac in Quebec City in October,1987, and the dedication of the Kerouac Commemorative in Lowell, Massachusetts, in June, 1988.

Nicosia scripted and narrated the acclaimed public television documentary film West Coast: Beat and Beyond, which was directed by Chris Felver; he was an advisor to John Antonelli’s documentary film Kerouac; and he wrote a three-act play called Jack in Ghost-Town, about Kerouac’s decline and death, which was produced by the American Blues Theater in Chicago.

Nicosia is also well-known for his own poetry and fiction, much of which has been published in literary magazines. He frequently reads this material in public. He has published three collections of his poetry, Lunatics, Lovers, Poets, Vets & Bargirls with Host Publications in 1991, Love California Style with 12 Gauge Press in 2001, and Embrace of the Lepers with Mystery Island in 2004. He is also the author of a nonfiction novel about the tragic suicide of his friend Richard Raff, called Bughouse Blues, and a novel about abortion called Unborn Children.

For the past 20 years, Nicosia has worked with Vietnam veterans, studying, documenting, and aiding in their recovery from the war. Having interviewed over 600 veterans and doctors, he completed a massive book called Home to War: A History of the Vietnam Veterans Movement, which was published by Crown/Random House in 2001 and will be reissued in 2004 by Avalon Publishing. It is the definitive work on Vietnam Veteran healing and readjustment from the late 1960's to the present, and has been praised by the likes of Senators John Kerry and Alan Cranston, author Maxine Hong Kingston, and National Book Award winners Gloria Emerson and Larry Heinemann. It was picked as one of the "best books" of 2001 by the Los Angeles Times, and was nominated for best nonfiction of 2001 by the Bay Area Book Reviewers Association.

Nicosia is arranging to donate his thousands of hours of tapes and voluminous files on Vietnam veterans to either the Center for Vietnam Studies at Texas Tech University or the Library of Congress. His research materials will be designated the Vietnam Veteran Peace Archive, providing the only comprehensive resource in the world for the study of Vietnam Veteran healing.

A close friend of Kerouac’s daughter for nearly 20 years, Nicosia was appointed by Jan Kerouac to be her literary executor. After Jan’s death in 1996, Nicosia attempted to carry out her intention of placing Jack Kerouac’s archive of papers and manuscripts intact in a library for public study, rather than having pieces of it sold off to collectors and dealers, as is currently being done. Opposed by Jan’s heir, her ex-husband John Lash, as well as the Sampas family of Lowell, Mr. Nicosia was prevented from ever bringing this critical case to court in order to get a legal ruling on what rights Jan may have had.

Nicosia is currently working on a book about the case of death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal and the death penalty in America, as well as a book about the FBI, John Kerry, and Vietnam Veterans Against the War.