Books That Made a Difference

Ken Kesey (1935-2001)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest


  • Born in 1935 in La Junta, Colorado; grew up in Colorado and Oregon.
  • Married his high school sweetheart; Faye Haxby, in 1956; four children.
  • Attended University of Oregon (B.A., 1957) and Stanford University. Active athlete in both high school and college, attended Oregon on a wrestling scholarship and Stanford on a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship.. 
  • While enrolled in Stanford's creative writing program, lived in Perry Lane, a section of Stanford patterned after the haven of the Beat movement in San Francisco's North Beach.


  • Worked as a night attendant on the psychiatric ward at the Veteran's Hospital in Menlo Park, California and based One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest on his experiences there. Also volunteered for a series of government-sponsored experiments being conducted at the hospital with what were called psychomimetic drugs. 
  • Formed the Merry Pranksters, a counterculture group who traveled America in a wildly painted bus staging "Happenings" and experimenting with various drugs.   (See Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Kesey's own The Further Inquiry (1990).
  • Founded and edited the magazine Spit in the Ocean (1975--).
  • Farms in Pleasant Hills, Oregon.

Major Writings

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962)
Sometimes a Geat Notion (1964)
The Last Whole Earth Catalogue (with Paul Krassner) (1971)
Kesey's Garage Sale (1973)
Demon Box (1986)
Little Trickler the Squirrel Meets Big Double the Bear (juvenile) (1988)
The Further Inquiry (1990)
The Sea Lion (juvenile) (1991)
Sailor Song
Last Go Round (1994)

Caverns (1989), a mystery novel, published under the joint pseudonym O. U. Levon [University of Oregon novel], a collaborative work with his OU creative writing class.

Critical Sources and Reviews

  • Biographical and critical information in multiple volumes of the following Gale publications: Contemporary Literary Criticism, including CLC 1, 1973; 3, 1975; 6, 1976; 11, 1979; 46, 1987; 64, 1991; and  Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 2: American Novelists since World War II, Gale, 1978 and Vol. 16: The Beats: Literary Bohemians in Postwar America.  Gale Literary Database (Contemporary Authors) can be accessed online through a subscribing library at
  • Other printed resources include:

    (Specific studies of Cuckoo's Nest and Kesey's fiction)
    Billingsley, Ronald B., The Artistry of Ken Kesey, 1971
    Critical edition of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, ed. John C. Pratt, 1973
    Leeds, Barry H., Ken Kesey, 1981
    Porter, M. Gilbert, The Art of Grit: Ken Kesey's Fiction, 1982

    (Kesey's place in American literature and culture)
    Allen, Mary, The Necessary Blankness: Women in Major American Ficiton of the Sixties, 1976
    Cook, Bruce, The Beat Geneeration, 1971
    Harris, Charles B. Contemporary American Novelists of the Absurd
    Perry, Paul. On the Bus: The Complete Guide to the Legendary Trip of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters and the Birth of the Counterculture, 1990
    Wallace, Ronald, The Last Laugh: Form and Affirmation in the Contemporary American Comic Novel
    Wolfe, Tom, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, 1968

  • Some reviews of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest:
    • New Yorker, April 21, 1962
    • New York Herald Tribune, February 25, 1962
    • New York Times Book Review, February 4, 1962
  • Useful online review available in the New York Times Books Archive:
    • Review of A Further Inquiry and Perry's On the Bus; December 9, 1990 (Deirdre English)

Retired Discussion Series

Debbie Sturman, Director
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Phone: 307-334-3490
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