Ken Kesey (1935–2001) is one of the best-known authors to ever emerge from Oregon. He wrote his two most-acclaimed novels, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962) and Sometimes a Great Notion (1964), when still in his twenties.

But while his early literary success shoved Kesey into the public spotlight, his colorful and spirited lifestyle would keep him there. 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.”

Kesey’s parents grew up in the South, and he and his younger brother Chuck were born in Colorado. After World War II, the young family moved to Springfield, Oregon, where Fred Kesey found work — and a career — in the creamery business. (Kesey’s brother would stay in the business. Chuck and his wife Sue still own the Springfield Creamery, home of Nancy’s Yogurt products.)

Kesey showed few early signs of becoming a renowned author. In his youth, he just wanted to be on stage. According to his wife Faye, who had also been his high-school sweetheart, “He himself wanted to be an actor and his writing was primarily to write parts for himself.” After graduating from the University of Oregon in 1957, Kesey and Faye even went to Hollywood in hopes of breaking him into the movie business. But that was not to be.