John Clellon Holmes letter to Shirley Holmes

Biographical and Historical Notes

John Clellon Holmes (1926-1988)

American writer and educator John Clellon Holmes (1926-1988), author of novels, short stories, essays, and poems, was best known as a chronicler of the ideology and lifestyle of the "Beat generation writers."

Holmes's semi-autobiographical novel Go, published by Scribner in 1952, and later in England as The Beat Boys, is considered to be the first published novel depicting the Beat generation.

Shirley Allen Holmes married on September 9, 1953. She was his second wife.


"John Clellon Holmes." Contemporary Authors Online (reproduced in Biography Resource Center). (accessed April 2013).

Scope and Content Note

American author John Clellon Holmes (1926-1988) wrote this three-page letter to his wife Shirley, describing his experiences at the West-Central Writers' Conference in June of 1967.

Sponsored by Western Illinois University in June of 1967, the West-Central Writers' Conference was arranged and hosted by Edward W. Johnson and included Holmes, Richard Yates, Frederic Will, and Kurt Vonnegut as faculty. In his extensive letter, written over a two-day span, Holmes offers an account of the classes he taught, the students, the social hours, and his interactions with the other faculty.

Holmes particularly focused on Kurt Vonnegut, writing, "Vonnegut has a lot of class in his way. A big, hulking, quizzical guy.." and later he continued, "he's a calculator, fairly strong nature, mature, direct, adroit in the politics of relationships - a man with strong tastes who can keep them to himself." Holmes noted that Vonnegut determined to leave the conference early because of the "dreary atmosphere" and "the unplanned nature of the schedule." Later that summer, Vonnegut published an article in The New York Times (August 5, 1967) titled "Teaching The Unteachable," in which he referenced his experiences at this conference.