The Unkind Might Say Ken Kesey's Writing Class Was a Cuckoo's Nest—but, Hey, They Wrote a Novel
Kesey cooked up his experiment to relax his 13 neophytes, including an excop and a computer programmer. "Writing is a lonely business, done pretty much on mountaintops," he says. "If you get stuck on the mountaintop, you'll die of loneliness." At first each student wrote at home, but literary chaos ensued. After that, the biweekly class opened with each student giving his ideas for the chapter at hand. Next, each was assigned, by lot, a piece of the chapter to write. Kesey would holler, "Go!" and for 15 to 40 minutes the group would scribble away, then tape their contributions. Between classes the result was typed professionally and the manuscript rotated among the students for editing. "I can't imagine great literature being done this way," Kesey concedes, "but you learn to do great literature this way."
Caverns is described by one of the co-authors as "Indiana Jones meets The Canterbury Tales." The writing is hardly elegant, but Kesey hopes to sell the book to a publisher and to Hollywood, and since he considers himself "half the class," he will accept half the royalties. "Nothing stimulates art like money," he says.
Whatever happens, the novel has clearly helped the reputation of at least one participant. "I now think Ken is a much better writer," says student Jeff Forester, 26, "than I thought he was after just reading his books."