(Photo courtesy of UMass Lowell) Jack Kerouac’s hometown is Lowell, Massachusetts.
This coming March, the city of Lowell will host Kerouac@100. Kerouac@100 is a months-long series of events brought together for the March 12 centennial birthday celebration of beat-generation writer and Lowell native, Jack Kerouac. The celebration will contain a range of free events throughout Lowell, all organized by a planning committee which includes members of the Kerouac Center at UMass Lowell.
Kerouac@100 will kick off on March 4 and will continue with events throughout the months of March and April to celebrate the author’s life, work, cultural influence and significance to Lowell. Associate Professor of English at UMass Lowell and Member of the Kerouac@100 planning committee, Michael Millner, says the committee has worked for the past 18 months to bring together this expansive series of events, exhibits and installations.
As a well-known influential author, Kerouac means a lot to the city of Lowell. “Kerouac is a pretty complex character,” said Millner. “For Lowell he is an important figure. He wrote a lot about the city, and he’s very much from the city.”
“His upbringing here is connected to all his novels,” Millner said, emphasizing how Kerouac’s ties to the Lowell French-Canadian community directly influenced his works.
Beyond Lowell, Kerouac’s works made him a prominent name in literature. “He is an extremely important figure in literary history,” said Millner.
Millner says Kerouac was a primary figure in bringing taboo topics of sex, drug-use and homosexuality into literature and art. “There was an avant-garde revolution in the ‘50s in the U.S. There was a newfound freedom in expression that Kerouac was responsible for…a freeing up of formal constraints,” Millner said. “He’s been so influential to other artists.”
Kerouac’s influence went beyond the United States. “[He’s] a worldwide recognized figure, more in Europe than in America,” Millner said. Millner says Kerouac’s work represents an idea of America, particularly the freedom of travel in “On the Road” which was intriguing to European audiences.
Despite the widespread fame and influence of Kerouac’s works, a variety of the author’s issues with gender and race are apparent when reading his work today. Millner says, “I think a lot of stuff is jarring…[Kerouac is] dismissive of women, idealizes, romanticizes, exoticizes people of color. Those are obviously problems.”
Although the variety of the author’s flaws are particularly noticeable in more modern standards, Kerouac’s works are still widely read and appreciated. Millner says, “What young people are still drawn to is the sense of freedom they see in his work, and it’s really exciting, this idea of being free from constraints—family, institutions.”
There are a variety of Kerouac@100 events throughout this year with film screenings, speakers, discussions and more to exhibit and discuss the author’s life and influence he and his works have had on other artists and culture.
“One [event] is a wonderful discussion between two Kerouac biographers, moderated by Professor Todd Tietchen,” said Millner.
The two biographers who will be featured are Dennis McNally, whose early Kerouac biography was first released in the ‘70s, and Holly George-Warren, whose Kerouac biography is currently in progress. Millner says George-Warren is writing the first biography authorized by the Kerouac estate, allowing her to quote from Kerouac’s unpublished manuscripts.
Michael Gray is coming to discuss Kerouac’s influence on the singer-songwriter and Nobel Poet Laureate, Bob Dylan. This event will take place on April 12.
“Dylan is someone who is, in some way, made possible by Kerouac,” said Millner.
The “Visions of Kerouac” exhibit at the Lowell National Historical Park will open on March 18 and includes the original “On the Road” scroll. The exhibit will be displayed until April 29. Kerouac wrote the entirety of “On the Road” on this scroll which Millner says is currently valued at about five million dollars. The scroll is currently owned by Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts.
Another event includes an open mic poetry reading with live jazz sponsored by the UMass Lowell Kerouac Center.