Thursday, November 11, 2021

Happy Heavenly Birthday to Stella Sampas Kerouac


Jack and Stella

Jack Kerouac's third wife, Stella Sampas Kerouac, was born this date -- November 11 -- in 1918. She appeared once in Kerouac's works under pseudonym: as Stavroula Savakis in Vanity of Duluoz.

That particular book, dedicated to Stavroula, starts out:

All right, wifey, maybe I'm a big pain in the you-know-what but after I've given you a recitation of the troubles I had to go through to make good in America between 1935 and more or less now, 1967, and although I also know everybody in the world's had his own troubles, you'll understand that my particular form of anguish came from being too sensitive to all the lunkheads I had to deal with just so I could get to be a high school football star, a college student pouring coffee and washing dishes and scrimmaging till dark and reading Homer's Iliad in three days all at the same time, and God help me, a WRITER whose very 'success', far from being a happy triumph as of old, was the sign of doom Himself. (1994, Penguin Books, p. 9)

True Kerouacians know that Stella was the sister of Sebastian Sampas, Jack's close friend of youth and a significant influence on his intellectual and emotional development. Stella was instrumental in providing care to Jack's mother, who lived with them, and some have suggested that was the main reason he married her. Jack was dismissive of her input into  his business affairs in a September 27, 1968 letter to agent Sterling Lord, saying, "I think she oughta mind her own business and wash her dishes" (Jack Kerouac Selected Letters 1957-1969, 1999, Penguin Books, p. 520). He did share with her his inner thoughts, though, as evidenced by this excerpt from an October 1957 letter to Stella:

Every night I thank God that's it's only a show in his mind. Since thought is unthinkable, and the world a thought in God's mind, what world is there? Think of your dead ancestors, now did they really truly appear and disappear? Twould seem to me that the nature of appearance and disappearance is in conformity with the nature of non-appearance and non-disappearance . . . . Go to the source for your spiritual comfort. The world is a primordial mystery and never even happened. Five falling stars every minute on a dark night mountaintop I saw. The name of the mountain was Desolation Peak. I was in bliss. (p. 520)

Since it's Stella's birthday, we won't get into the Kerouac estate controversy that swirled (swirls?) around her and her family.

Suffice to say that she played a critically important role in the Kerouac story, and we wish her a Happy Birthday in Heaven.


Rick Dale, author of The Beat Handbook said...

P.S. It is also the birthday of Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky (1821), who was an influence on Kerouac.

Rick Dale, author of The Beat Handbook said...

P.S.S. Also it's the birthday of Kurt Vonnegut, who, according to DHARMA beat ( said the following (he must mean Joan when he says Jane):

I knew Kerouac only at the end of his life, which is to say there was no way for me to know him at all, since he had become a pinwheel. He had settled briefly on Cape Cod, and a mutual friend, the writer Robert Boles, brought him over to my house one night. I doubt that Kerouac knew anything about me or my work, or even where he was. He was crazy. He called Boles, who is black, "a blue-gummed nigger." He said that Jews were the real Nazis, and that Allen Ginsberg had been told by the Communists to befriend Kerouac, in order that they might gain control of American young people, whose leader he was.

This was pathetic. There were clearly thunderstorms in the head of this once charming and just and intelligent man. He wished to play poker, so I dealt some cards. There were four hands, I think—one for Boles, one for Kerouac, one for Jane [Kerouac’s wife], one for me. Kerouac picked up the remainder of the deck, and he threw it across the kitchen. (Hyannis, Mass., mid-1960s)