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Kerouac Comes To Screen and Stage

Hollywood Film and Lowell Play Highlight Resonance of Beats

Kerouac UMass Lowell Spinners bobblehead by Bob Ellis
The Lowell Spinners bobblehead, with benefits going to the UMass Lowell English department, is just one of the many Jack Kerouac celebrations happening in 2012. Photo by Bob Ellis.

By Julia Gavin

Jack is back. And Lowell couldn’t be happier.

While Kerouac and his fellow Beat writers have had dedicated fans throughout the years, new productions have brought them to a younger generation. Social-media darling and “Twilight” star Kristen Stewart and friends have created a buzz around Walter Salles’ long-awaited film adaptation of Kerouac signature novel “On the Road,” set for a U.S. premiere this winter. And Lowell’s own Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT) brings to life Kerouac’s only full-length play “Beat Generation” during the Kerouac Literary Festival in October.

With the University’s Kerouac connections growing, it’s a good time for Beat fans on campus.

“There’s a definite connection between the time the Beats were writing and today − many of them were skeptical of the 'American dream,”'of a stationary, safe life in the suburbs,” says Prof. Todd Tietchen of the English Department. “Many people are struggling with that same idea today: things our elders promised us would happen and make us happy just aren’t happening. The current interest in this literature speaks to the resonance of the writing.”

Tietchen also sees parallels between Kerouac’s observations of daily life and our fascination with social media and reality television.

“With social media, people build narratives about their lives and friends. The Beats translated their everyday lives into literary experiences, allowing and encouraging readers to experience life and build new stories,” says Tietchen.

With Walter Salles’ “On the Road’ hitting U.S. screens in December, interest in the Lowell-born author has jumped and will stay high in the coming months.

Most recently, the English Department partnered with the Lowell Spinners to offer a Kerouac bobblehead figure at a baseball game to benefit endowed scholarships. The promotion, developed by John Sampas, literary executor of the Kerouac Estate, Tietchen and Prof. Michael Milner, was a hit with baseball and book fans alike.

“It’s interesting for me to see Kerouac as a bobblehead, but it’s worked for authors like Shakespeare,” says Tietchen. “We’re very thankful to John and the Kerouac estate for partnering with us to support scholarships.”

The bobbleheads may be purchased through the Lowell Spinners website.
In October, the University will partner with the Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT) to present the world premiere of “Beat Generation,” Kerouac’s only full-length play.

“The play is aligned with Kerouac's aesthetics of spontaneity and immediacy, which he was experimenting with not only in his prose and poetry but also in other media like the film ‘Pull My Daisy,’” says Milner, head of the University’s Jack and Stella Kerouac Center for Public Humanities. “In his experiments with various media, he was continuing his lifelong investigation of new aesthetic forms and what they might communicate.”

The play will run during the Kerouac Literary Festival. The Oct. 10 premiere is UMass Lowell Night, and will include a celebration of the partnerships behind the play.

"With the expanded Kerouac Literary Festival, we are able to bring in authors, scholars and artists from various disciplines, including novelist Rick Moody, musician Tanya Donelly, poet Anne Waldman, and physicist David Kaiser, offering the University community and the public a broader menu of choices," says Paul Marion, executive director of Community and Cultural Affairs. "The core Kerouac events are as strong as ever.”

For more information on “Beat Generation,” visit the MRT website.