Thursday, August 09, 2007

York Neighbors: On the road to Lowell, Mass., Kerouac exhibit

Portland Press Herald
August 9, 2007
By Juliana L'Heureux

Jack Kerouac's spirit is back at home in Lowell, Mass., with the national touring scroll exhibit of his "On the Road" manuscript.

It's worth the drive down Route 495, to see historic Lowell and witness this antique classic piece of American literature, up- close and Kerouac-personal.

Through Sept. 14 (now October 14), Kerouac's original hand-typed scroll is on exhibit in his hometown, at the Boott Cotton Mills Museum.

Kerouac was born on March 19, 1922, as Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac, in Lowell, to French-Canadian parents, Leo-Alcide Kerouac and Gabrielle-Ange Levesque, natives of Quebec.

"On the Road" describes the advent of the 1950's "beat" generation. As an educational exhibit, the museum includes information about Kerouac's life as well as audio of the writer reading from his work when he was a late-night guest on the Jack Parr show.

Kerouac's writing is legendary for its colorful metaphors and spontaneity. Because of his reputation, Kerouac is also responsible for bringing literary recognition to his Franco- American roots in Lowell. Kerouac's mother worked in the city's historic mills complex where the scroll is exhibited.

"Kerouac made Lowell sacred by his attention to it," wrote his friend, Allen Ginsberg.

"This is an excellent place to host the Kerouac scroll," said Sue Andrews, who works at Lowell's museum. She's worked in Lowell for 12 of her 25 years as a U.S. National Park Service employee. "We've combined the scroll with an exhibit featuring Jack Kerouac's life. Traffic through the exhibit comes from the four corners of the world. People recently came from Danish television."

Kerouac's scroll portrays inspired writing. He simply sat down with a manual black-keyed Royal typewriter in April, 1951, and wrote continuous prose with minimal corrections, until his adventurous travel narrative was ready to take to a publisher. Revisions were eventually made to the novel, published in 1957.

At the time he wrote "On the Road," he was living with his second wife, Joan Haverty, in an apartment at 454 West Twentieth St. in Manhattan. Kerouac called the "On The Road" manuscript "the roll." The roll is displayed under a protected case in the center of the exhibition room at the museum, adjacent to Boarding House Park in Lowell's National Historic Park district.

Kerouac fans will appreciate his hand-typed text as testimony to his spontaneous creativity. His writing is a sharp contrast to the rewrites and revisions we routinely hear about from novelists. Visitors even see two paintings by the writer, included in the exhibit.

An authentic antique Royal typewriter is an interactive piece of the Boott Cotton Mills Museum exhibit, where visitors are encouraged to type a brief message to Kerouac, some of which are tacked to a bulletin board.

Kerouac was fond of talking about his roots in Lowell and about his French heritage. He spoke French with a distinct Franco- American accent, or "joual." He died in 1968 and is buried in Lowell.

Despite the sometimes nomadic image conjured up as a father of the beat generation, Kerouac actually intended this social label to be a literary contraction for the word "beautiful."

In September, the original unedited version of "On the Road," just as it was written on the scroll, will be available in book form for the first time, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the novel's publication.
Juliana L'Heureux can be contacted at:


Anonymous Anonymous said...

An Frenchman's view of the legacy of the Beats and "On the Road" is being blogged at

12:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^


5:03 AM  

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