Exhibit Kicks off New Effort
By Julia Gavin
Jack Kerouac fans will now have a one-stop option for Kerouac information in Lowell. Supported by grants from the UMass President’s Office and MassHumanities as well as several partnerships, UMass Lowell has installed an exhibit in the Lowell National Historical Park (LNHP) Visitors Center exploring Kerouac’s connection to the city.
“Kerouac is often thought of as the ‘on the road’ author and as a national writer, but much of his writing is specific to Lowell; he was a product of this city,” says Prof. Michael Millner, head of the Jack and Stella Kerouac Center for Public Humanities, an organizer of the project. “Five of his novels are set partly or completely in Lowell and they’re about walking the city, not driving the country.”
The exhibit’s panels and resources, co-organized by Millner and Paul Marion, executive director of Community and Cultural Affairs for the University, were debuted at the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Festival earlier this month. The project has been a year in the making and is just one of the upcoming Kerouac projects spearheaded by the University.
“As a Lowell resident of French-Canadian ancestry and an author of international renown, Kerouac provides a unique connection to Lowell's literary and immigrant history, subjects core to both UMass Lowell and LNHP,” says David Blackburn, chief of Cultural Resources and Programs for the park, which partnered with the University to create the exhibit. “Additionally, this particular partnership allows both institutions to point to a place in the community, the Lowell National Historical Park's Visitor Center, as a place where students and visitors can start their exploration of Kerouac's Lowell.”
Bringing Beat Scholarship to the Public
In addition to the new exhibit, Millner is working on several “first-class projects” that will help to expand Kerouac and Beat literature scholarship. The University is helping to expand the annual Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Festival into a broader literary festival on a biannual basis, will soon debut an all-encompassing website about the author.
The website, which will go live in the coming months, will host resources for fans, scholars and educators looking to know more about Kerouac. Millner also hopes to engage more students and professors in the website as he works to create content for the project. The recent hiring of Dr. Todd Tietchen as the University’s Beat Scholar and its support for these projects “proves that the University is behind the program,” says Millner.
Audio archives the University purchased from a researcher in the 1990s are also in the plan for the website. Millner has been working with a student to search the hours of audio and transcripts, which include rare recordings of the author himself, to find the most interesting sections about Kerouac’s connection to Lowell.
“The researcher traveled all over Lowell and talked to people who knew Kerouac and also talked to famous writers about him, including Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs,” says Millner of the audio gathered several decades ago. “The material is fascinating and little-known even to Beat scholars, so it’s fresh to nearly everyone.”