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Lauren Elkanich

Arts & Culture

Oregon Experience Explores the Life of Famed Oregon Author Ken Kesey

OPB | Jan. 7, 2014 8 a.m. | Updated: Jan. 22, 2014 4:57 p.m.

Airs January 20 at 9:00 p.m. on OPB TV; Advance Public Screenings in Eugene & Portland

This month, OPB will premiere a new Oregon Experience special “Ken Kesey,” which explores the qualities and achievements of one of Oregon’s best-known authors and one of the country’s most visible icons of the Psychedelic Sixties. The one-hour special premieres Monday, January 20 at 9:00 p.m. on OPB TV.

Ken Kesey is considered to be one of the most gifted writers to ever emerge from Oregon. He gained early recognition for his first two novels, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion; however, as his biographer Robert Faggen suggests, “maybe Kesey did not conceive of having a career as a writer as being the most important thing that he could do.”

His early writing success shoved Kesey into the public spotlight, and his colorful and spirited lifestyle kept him there. Kesey and his friends heralded the advent of newly-developed mind-altering drugs—substances he thought presented “a new way to think.” His zany 1964 bus adventure with a group of Merry Pranksters inspired Tom Wolfe’s popular “Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” and propelled Kesey to celebrity status. The news media would in time anoint him “a founding father of the 1960s counterculture.”

Those episodes have come to define the Kesey that most people envision, but once settled on his Oregon farm, Kesey changed. He continued to grow as a writer, artist, farmer, family man and all-around character. Until his death in 2001, Kesey pursued life with a purpose, as his son Zane explains, ”…to get up and do something that makes today different than yesterday.”

This new Oregon Experience documentary offers a fresh look at this tie-dyed-in-the-wool Oregonian. “Ken Kesey” presents interviews with Kesey family members, including his son Zane, daughter Sunshine, granddaughter Kate Smith, widow Faye Kesey McMurtry and his 97-year-old mother Geneva Jolley. Additionally, several authors weigh in on Kesey’s writings and antics, including Michael Strelow, professor of literature at Willamette University, Robert Faggen, professor of literature at Claremont McKenna College and Kesey’s biographer; and Ken Babbs, a Kesey friend, writer and lifelong Merry Prankster.

“Ken Kesey” was written and produced by Eric Cain and edited by Lisa Suinn Kallem. The program will air on Monday, January 20 at 9 p.m. on OPB TV. For more information, please visit http://www.opb.org/television/programs/oregonexperience/segment/or-exp-ken-kesey/.

OPB will be hosting two free, public screening events in advance of the premiere. The first will be held in Eugene on Thursday, January 16 at the McDonald Theatre. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the screening begins at 7 p.m. The event is free, but for guaranteed seating, RSVP at http://www.mcdonaldtheatre.com/forms/free_tickets.html. Notably at the screening, Kesey’s son Zane will be showcasing the second of the two colorful International Harvester school buses named “Further” purchased by his father. Ken Kesey drove the original bus across the country on his famous psychedelic excursion.

There will also be a screening event in Portland on Friday, January 17 at the McMenamins Mission Theater. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the screening begins at 7 p.m. For more information, visit http://opb.is/kenkesey.

Both screenings will feature a showing of the full-length documentary and a special Q&A with producer Eric Cain.

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About Oregon Experience
Oregon Experience is an exciting history series on OPB TV that brings to life stories that help us understand this place where we live and that reinforce our shared identity as Oregonians. Co-produced with the Oregon Historical Society, the series draws upon the Society’s skilled researchers and extensive photography and moving-image archives. The program also incorporates OPB’s own film and video resources and the expertise of some of Oregon’s finest historians. Each episode features captivating characters – both familiar and forgotten – who have played key roles in building our state into the unique place we call home. This program is supported in part by the Robert D. and Marcia H. Randall Charitable Trust, the Oregon Cultural Trust, the Clark Foundation and The Roundhouse Foundation. For more information, please visit http://www.opb.org/programs/oregonexperience.
 
 
For image requests for “Ken Kesey,” please contact Lauren Elkanich at lelkanich@opb.org.

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