The Fiction of Bea Franco…

I didn’t start out looking to find Bea Franco. When the initial idea came to me, it was to write a fictional account of Bea’s side of the story, the fifteen days she spent with Jack Kerouac from her point of view. I figured it would be a worthwhile attempt, since I grew up in the San Joaquin Valley, and my own family knew the labor camps and fields so well. I pictured Bea as my grandmother, Estela Constante Hernandez. The woman I knew who would get up at 4 o’clock each morning to make homemade tortillas and burritos for the family, as they set out for the fields. The same grandmother who used to feed us cigarette ashes as children, claiming it would “clean us out.” A hard scrabble woman with a big heart and calloused hands.

This was the original idea anyway. I began my research by looking for mention of Bea Franco in other books, biographies mostly. I stopped counting after around two dozen. I quickly discovered the information on her was pretty limited, and many were rehashing the same thing. Shortly after, I discovered some of her letters were housed in the New York Public Library’s Berg Collection/ Kerouac Archives. This is where my book took off…

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Here is a sampling of only some of the books that mention Bea Franco: 

Kerouac’s American Journey by Paul Maher Jr.

Subterranean Kerouac by Ellis Amburn

Memory Babe by Gerald Nicosia

This is The Beat Generation by James Campbell

Why Kerouac Matters by John Leland

Jack’s Book by Barry Gifford and Lawrence Lee

Women of the Beat Generation by Brenda Knight

The Beat Face of God by Stephen D. Edington

Manly Love by Bill Morgan and David Stanford

Countering the Counterculture by Manuel Luis Martinez

Kerouac’s Duluoz Legend by James T. Jones

Kerouac: The Definitive Biography by Paul Maher Jr.

Jack Kerouac: A Biography by Michael J. Dittman

Historical Dictionary of the Beat Movement by Paul Varner

Best American Short Stories 1956

Still Wild: Short Fiction of the American West by Larry McMurtry

Neal Cassady: Fast Life of a Beat Hero by David Sandison and Graham Vickers

The Voice Is All by Joyce Johnson

On the Road: The Original Scroll by Jack Kerouac

Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac by Douglas Brinkley

Book of Dreams by Jack Kerouac

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One response to “The Fiction of Bea Franco…

  1. Hello, I am a graduate student at Trent University in Ontario, Canada. I am working on a graduate paper which focuses on the sequence of interpretations On the Road has experienced from fictional account, to accepted biography, to mythic ‘handbook’ of a counter-cultural generation, and now as a canonical text deserving scholarly attention. I value the work you are doing, adding to the discussion on a part of the story which has been, rather complacently, ignored despite its importance to understanding Kerouac.

    My paper is using the small two chapter episode with Terry and Sal to discuss the various reading responses. It has always interested me because of its inherent controversy, as their relationship bridges racial and economic divides, and is effectively adultery as she is married (though to a abusive partner). I was wondering if you approach a few questions I’ve had while writing my paper.

    Where do you think the name “Teresa or Terry” (Kerouac 83) derives from? I personally think it has to do with Jack’s religious affinity to pray to Sainte Therese of the Infant Jesus stemming from childhood (see Barry Miles biography). He often seems to be fascinated with the spiritual/pure but also the visceral, so having sex with a saint would appeal, or at least that’s my initial interpretation.

    Also, you mention in one of the posts above that there has been little scholarship into Franco’s life, why do you feel this has been the case? In an interview with you, I believe you compared her to the Chinia (spelling?) Mona Lisa. I see her to be a bit like the Dark Woman in Shakespeare’s sonnets, but of course that woman’s identity is still in heavy dispute.

    Basically, I think that this study that you have undergone is very interesting and will no doubt influence future interpretations of Kerouac’s works. I know that you focus on the entirety of her life, but nonetheless, I anticipate scholars will take notice to this “hybrid” biography. Sorry for the long winded post, but I would like to discuss further if time allows, over email.

    James McClelland

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