Kesey grew up in Springfield, Oregon, graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Speech and Communications and received a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship to enroll in the Creative Writing program at Stanford. During his college years he volunteered at a Veterans Administration hospital in an experimental program involving mind-altering drugs.
Kesey's home-grown parties evolved into 1960s San Francisco day-glo "happenings" and "acid tests" with light shows, body painting, exotic costumes, strobe lights, eastern mysticism, sexual mayhem, and eventually a hook-up with Jerry Garcia's band "The Grateful Dead." In the summer of 1964, Kesey purchased a 1939 school bus, painted it psychedelic, and took the Merry Prankster crew on a road trip to New York. Neal Cassady (made famous as Dean Moriarty in "On The Road" by Jack Kerouac) was the driver. The rest, as they say, is history.
In recent decades, Ken Kesey has been writing, directing and performing plays including "Where's Merlin?" (toured England for the 1999 solar eclipse), and "Twister: a Musical Catastrophe for the Millennium's End." Kesey was awarded the CES Wood Retrospective Award honoring his lifetime achievements at the Oregon Book Awards ceremony in November 1999.
"I think it’s important for writers to get out there on the road and read their stuff to the audience," Kesey said. "I see performance as a "Thing." Performance is a form of publication. Performance is when you go public. And publication of literature is the point. When we go over on the coast to Newport in April to do a "Thing" in front of the public, that’s publication." — Ken Kesey.