Kenneth Elton Kesey was an American author born in 1935, in Colorado, to dairy farming parents. His family moved to Oregon when he was 11, and Kesey spent his adolescence and early adulthood there. His keen interest in writing began at the University of Oregon's School of Journalism, and he relocated to California in 1958 to attend the creative writing program at Stanford.
Kesey's earliest two novels, Zoo, about San Francisco beatniks, and End of Autumn, about a working class student who receives a scholarship to an Ivy League university, were written in 1959 and 1960 respectively, but never published.
Kesey was drawn to alternative culture. At a Veterans' hospital in California, he volunteered to participate in medical experiments with hallucinogenic drugs, including LSD. He also worked as an aide in the hospital, and often passed time talking to patients on the mental ward. His experiences there contributed to the publication of his highly successful novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, in 1962.
Kesey's second-published novel, Sometimes a Great Notion, made its debut in 1964. It was, along with the 1964 World's Fair, the catalyst for a cross-America trip Kesey took in a school bus with a group of friends self-dubbed 'The Merry Pranksters'. Many of the Pranksters' experiments and tales are told in Tom Wolfe's book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.
While Kesey published many works before his death, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest remains his masterpiece, and became a 1975 film. The movie starred Jack Nicholson as Randle McMurphy, a patient in an Oregon mental hospital whose attempts to bring joy, life and fun to the ward are eventually rewarded with a lobotomy. Nurse Ratched, one of literature's most frightening villains, was played by Louise Fletcher. The film took five Academy awards, including Best Picture, Best Leading Actor and Best Leading Actress.
Kesey died in 2001 from complications following surgery. He was 66. Signed copies of his work vary widely in price, with signed copies of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest fetching into as high as tens of thousands of dollars.