Ken Kesey

The Claim

Kesey is Oregon’s most influential author

The Reality

Indeed, Kesey put the state on the literary map, plus some.

Even though Ken Kesey garnered much of his fame outside Oregon—as the ringleader of the Merry Prankster psychedelic experimentation in Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool Aid Acid Test and as the author of the acclaimed One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—the state will always claim him as its own.

Kesey moved to a farm in Pleasant Hill with his family when he was a boy, before attending Springfield High School and the University of Oregon. He went on to write many novels throughout his lifetime, including Sometimes a Great Notion, about the Oregon logging industry. “I can’t think of a book that better describes the beauty and richness of Oregon,” says Keri Aronson, director of development for the University of Oregon library. “It’s a very wordy tough read, but a wonderful book.” The film adaptations of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion were filmed in Oregon and brought top Hollywood talent here, including Jack Nicholson, Paul Newman and Henry Fonda.

Starting in the 1960s, Kesey began depositing his papers at the University of Oregon’s library for safe keeping. Today the Kesey Collection consists of 109 boxes of everything from his manuscripts laced with Kesey’s handwritten comments to personal journals and artwork he made while serving jail time for possession of marijuana. The collection is currently closed to the public because the Kesey family owns it, but the library is raising funds to buy the materials. Kesey died in 2001 in Eugene. His brother, Chuck Kesey, and Chuck’s wife, Sue, own the long-standing Nancy’s Yogurt in neighboring Springfield.

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