5 Celebrated Authors’ Most Influential Dreams


1. Many people know of Jack Kerouac’s fiction, but few know of his penchant for recording his dreams. And regretfully so, for his Book of Dreams is a humdinger if I ever saw one. Kerouac confessed to have written the journal “Spontaneously, nonstop, just like dreams happen, sometimes written before I was even wide awake.” Which explains his poetic, visceral and occasionally unintelligible descriptions. Kerouac writes of one dream, “I went and saw Cody and Evelyn, it all began in Mexico, on Bull’s ratty old couch I purely dreamed that I was riding a white horse down a side street in that North town like in Maine but really off Highway Maine with the rainy night porches in the up and down America, you’ve seen it you ignorant pricks that can’t understand what you’re reading, there, with sidestreets, trees, night, mist, lamps, cowboys, barns, hoops, girls, leaves, something so familiar and never been seen it tears your heart out.”

2. One of the stories from George Saunders’ acclaimed collection of short stories released this year, Tenth of December, came to him in a dream. In the world of “The Semplica Girl Diaries,” the markers of economic success are “semplica girls,” or, illegal fugitives used as backyard decorations. Naturally. Saunders recalled his dream, “I was looking out the window to our actual backyard and here were five of those semplicas. And the thing that was really striking about the dream is that instead of screaming or being outraged, the person I was in the dream was really excited. Like, yes! I got those for my kids! I’m finally really wining!”

3. Mary Wollstonecraft was not a stranger to nightmares. Yet it was her nightly reveries from which most of her passion sprung. It’s even fair to say that her dreams were a gift of sorts. After staying up late one night listening to Shelley and Byron reflect on Charles Darwin, she describes in the 1831 version of Frankenstein (https://kindle.amazon.com/work/frankenstein-wollstonecraft-godwin-shelley-ebook/B003A4IDLQ/B003A4IDLQ) how the idea came to her in a dream. She dreamt of, “The pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. [She] saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life.” And so out of slumber, Frankenstein was born.

4. Ever wonder what Franz Kafka dreamed of on October 2nd, 1911? Well, according to The Mystical Life of Franz Kafka, “[Kafka] describes a blind or weak-sighted child who appeared in his mind. The child’s eyes were covered by a pair of glasses, but the lenses were not colored the same and were not equidistant from the eyes. To correct this optical problem, the child made use of a lever that cut through the flesh of his cheek, while another wire came out and went behind his ear.” The similarities between Kafka’s dreams and his fiction are patent. In fact, Kafka only stopped recording his dreams once they were fully interweaved into and indistinguishable from his fiction.

5. James Baldwin’s survival was contingent upon his dreamscapes. Having grown up during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, he continuously struggled to make sense of the rampant racism. Yet all the while he was enduring a second, more private, though equally horrific, struggle with his sexuality. In Baldwin’s Notes Of A Native Son, he muses on his impure thoughts, “For I knew how I worked myself up into my own visions, and how frequently—indeed, incessantly—the visions God granted to me differed from the visions He granted to my father. I did not understand the dreams I had at night, but I knew that they were not holy. For that matter, I knew that my waking hours were far from holy.”

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image – Book of Dreams