Ken Kesey: 'He is so identified with the spirit of Eugene itself'

EUGENE, Ore. - People know Ken Kesey for his novels "Sometimes a Great Notion" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

His adventures and antics in the psychedelic bus Further with the Merry Pranksters inspired Tom Wolfe's "Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test."

When it comes to both American literature of the 20th Century - and the counterculture of the 1960s - Kesey looms large on the historic landscape.

"He is so identified with the spirit of Eugene itself, with the kind of free, hippie bohemian spirit," said Cai Emmons, one of the writers who helped organize a reading of Kesey's unpublished works Thursday at Tsunami Books.

Kesey was born in Colorado but grew up on a farm in Pleasant Hill, graduating from Springfield High School and the University of Oregon. He was a champion wrestler in high school and college.

Kesey died in 2001, but his public career is well documented.

So is his interior life and thought process, contained in dozens of boxes stored first at the family farm, then deposited at the University of Oregon.

"It has his journals, correspondence, hours of reel-to-reel tapes of him interviewing other writers," said James Fox, head of special collections at the University of Oregon.

Donations are being accepted for the UO to acquire the Ken Kesey Collection and ensure that it stays in Eugene.

The collection has been recently appraised for $2,948,620. It consists of virtually all of Kesey's handwritten and typewritten manuscripts, artwork, collages, family photographs and correspondence dating from 1960 to 2001.

If you'd like more information about donating, you can contact Keri Aronson at (541) 346-1890 or by email at

Fox and others want to see the University of Oregon purchase the collection and make it available to scholars and the public.

"This collection is a hundred boxes of material, and it details his development as a person and as a writer," Fox said.

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