Justin W. Brierly

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Justin W. Brierly (1905–1985) was an American educator and lawyer. He was a prominent member of Denver, Colorado society, noted for his efforts to place students into prominent universities, and as a patron of the performing arts. He is also remembered for his association with Beat Generation icons Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac.

Educational career and mentorship[edit]

Brierly was a graduate of Columbia University in New York City. He helped form a talent agency there before returning to Denver, where he became an English literature teacher and guidance counselor at East High School. Brierly took an active role in mentoring young men he considered bright students, to help motivate them and use his connections to place them in college. After fourteen years as a teacher, Brierly was appointed as the supervisor of college and scholarship guidance for Denver Public Schools.[1] He also served as a committee member of the Ivy League Scholarship Board in Denver. Future aerospace CEO and Defense Department official Norman Ralph Augustine was among the students Brierly mentored.[2] During World War II, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill invited Brierly to England as a consultant on the evacuation of children from urban areas at risk from German bombing. Brierly retired from the school system in 1971, after thirty-six years of service.[3]

Brierly and the Beat writers[edit]

In 1941, Brierly met Neal Cassady, then a 15-year-old juvenile delinquent who would become a significant influence on the Beat writers and a countercultural icon in his own right.[4] Impressed by Cassady's intelligence, Brierly took an active role in Cassady's life over the next few years, helping admit him to high school, encouraging and supervising his reading, and finding employment for him. Cassady continued his criminal activities, however, and was repeatedly arrested from 1942 to 1944; on at least one of these occasions, he was released by law enforcement into Brierly's safekeeping. He and Brierly actively exchanged letters during this period even through Cassady's intermittent incarcerations; these represent Cassady's earliest surviving letters.[5] Brierly, apparently a closeted homosexual, is also believed to have been responsible for Cassady's first homosexual experience.[6]

Cassady was introduced in 1946 to future Beat Generation literary icons Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg by another Brierly protégé, Hal Chase, who Brierly had helped place at Columbia University.[7] Kerouac in turn met Brierly in 1947 during a trip to see Cassady in Denver and established a friendship with him.[8] In 1950, Brierly wrote an article for the Denver Post about Kerouac's first published novel, The Town and the City, and organized a book signing for him in Denver.[9] Kerouac's second novel, On the Road (1957), loosely fictionalized his experiences in the late 1940s, with a focus on his friendship with Cassady. Brierly accordingly had a major role in early manuscripts, which provided important context for Cassady's depiction, but Kerouac also took the opportunity to satirize Brierly at length.[10] Due in part to the publisher's fear of a libel suit from Brierly, considered one of the few "respectable" figures in the book, Kerouac substantially trimmed his depiction.[11] Brierly appears in the final published novel only in brief passages, as the comical, minor character "Denver D. Doll."[12] Kerouac's original portrayal of Brierly was finally published in 2007, in On the Road: The Original Scroll. Kerouac also included references to Brierly in Visions of Cody as "Justin G. Mannerly," and in Book of Dreams as "Manley Mannerly."[13]

Other endeavors and later life[edit]

Brierly was a prominent supporter of the performing arts in Denver. He was a director of the Central City Opera House Association between 1937 and 1948.[14] He was also a trustee of Colorado Outward Bound School, a board member of the American Council of Émigrés in the Professions, and adviser to the board of the Institute of International Education.

As a practicing attorney, Brierly served as an assistant to the president of Colorado Women's College following his retirement from the public schools. In 1972, Brierly founded the Martha Faure Carson Library at the Colorado Women's College, in honor of a friend who had been one of Denver's noted dance teachers. Upon Brierly's death, it was renamed the Carson-Brierly Dance Library, and it is now part of the Penrose Library at the University of Denver.[15]

Brierly died in Denver in April 1985, at the age of 79. His obituary in the Rocky Mountain News called him "one of Denver's most distinguished educators."[16]


  1. ^ Sandison & Vickers 2006, p. 41. A 1959 Time magazine article mentions Brierly as the "coordinator of college counseling for Denver schools." "Education: The Good Student", Time, April 27, 1959.
  2. ^ Shelsby, Ted (April 21, 1996), "Rocketing to the top - Debut: Norman R. Augustine will address shareholders of Lockheed Martin Corp. Thursday as the CEO, a culmination of 40 years of luck and opportunity combined with a keen mind and traditional virtues", Baltimore Sun ("Fate intervened in Mr. Augustine's junior year at East Denver High School, in the form of Justin W. Brierly, a guidance counselor who prided himself on getting as many students as he could into Ivy League universities...He summoned Mr. Augustine, then one of the top two students in his class of more than 700, to his office...Mr. Brierly handed him two folders and told him to fill out the forms. One was an application to Princeton University, the other to Williams College.").
  3. ^ Sandison & Vickers 2006, p. 41.
  4. ^ Cassady & Moore 2004, p. 1.
  5. ^ Cassady & Moore 2004, p. 1; Sandison & Vickers 2006, pp. 42–46.
  6. ^ Turner 1996, p. 79 ("Brierly had been sexually attracted to Neal, and managed to entice him into his first homosexual experience."); Sandison & Vickers 2006, pp. 41–42 ("Brierly was most likely also a closet homosexual, and it was probably through him that Neal Cassady would first discover and explore gay sex and serve as a hustler in Denver's gay community."). According to some reports, however, Brierly's sexual orientation was an open secret. See Weir, John (June 22, 2005), "Everybody knows, nobody cares, or: Neal Cassady's Penis", TriQuarterly.
  7. ^ Cassady & Moore 2004, p. 10; Sandison & Vickers 2006, pp. 63–64.
  8. ^ Sandison & Vickers 2006, p. 108. In a 1955 letter, Kerouac says he knows Brierly "well & on intimate gossipy terms." Kerouac & Charters 1996, p. 518.
  9. ^ Turner 1996, p. 113.
  10. ^ Cunnell 2007, p. 43; Mouratidis 2007, p. 77 ("Brierly presents a stronger link to Cassady's actual past and private life...Neal's failure as Brierly's protégé...provides a context for...[his] alienat[ion] from his Denver friends, something never properly explained in the published novel.").
  11. ^ Cunnell 2007, pp. 43–44.
  12. ^ Kerouac, though believing Brierly would be "charmed" by his depiction in On the Road, discusses some of these changes in a letter dated September 20, 1955, to Malcolm Cowley, his editor at Viking Press. Kerouac & Charters 1996, p. 518. An intermediate manuscript also named Brierly "Beattie G. Davis."
  13. ^ Cassady & Moore 2004, p. 1.
  14. ^ Sandison & Vickers 2006, p. 41; Turner 1996, p. 79.
  15. ^ Sandison & Vickers 2006, p. 41; "A Comprehensive Look at Dance Through the Carson-Brierly Dance Library" (PDF), Penrose Library News: 4, Spring 2006, archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-07-23.
  16. ^ Sandison & Vickers 2006, p. 41. Turner 1996, p. 218 inaccurately gives 1984 as his year of death.