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Linking Jack’s Legacy

Kerouac Festival Connects Beats to Today

Lowell Celebrates Kerouac
The Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Festival kicks off every year at the author’s memorial downtown.

By Julia Gavin

Today, Jack Kerouac could Skype with poets across the nation, keep up with his friends on Facebook instead of taking a road trip and write “On the Road” on a smartphone. But the 23rd annual Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Festival will explore why he would prefer the old way.
The festival, co-sponsored by UMass Lowell, will connect the Beat Generation to the Social Media Generation by engaging a new audience in the author’s work and showcasing up-and-coming writers. The keynote talk by new UMass Lowell professor Dr. Todd Tietchen will discuss Kerouac’s thoughts on computers in addition to the popular readings and tours that every year attract visitors from across the nation to the festival.

"I'm looking forward to another wonderful celebration of the ongoing Kerouac presence in Lowell,” says Steve Edington, president of Lowell Celebrates Kerouac!, the main organizing group for the festival, which runs Oct. 6 through 9 this year. “I'm especially happy that we'll be introducing Dr. Tietchen to the greater Lowell -- and Kerouac -- communities.”

Tietchen, who began teaching in the English Department this semester, will give a keynote talk titled “The Kerouac Legacy” on Saturday, Oct. 8, at the Lowell National Historical Park Visitor Center. His talk will consider Kerouac’s attitudes on computing technology and multimedia culture, which even in the 1950s and ‘60s the author considered a threat to literary and American culture.

“Kerouac was always interested in experience,” says Tietchen. “To him, anything that stood in the way of direct experience was a threat to human well-being. When we start to understand this, it puts a lot of his other work in perspective.”

As part of his research, Tietchen was “graciously” given access to one of Kerouac’s unpublished manuscripts by John Sampas, the author’s brother-in-law and executor of his estate. The story takes place in a dystopian future where computer algorithms dictate daily life. Expanding on Kerouac, Tietchen plans to link hippie culture, physics, Buddhism and algorithms, resulting in “something for everyone” the professor says.

“I hope to bring new audiences to the festival with this perspective,” Tietchen says of his science-related paper. “I understand these things philosophically, but to have a computer scientist there to bring new understanding would be interesting.”

The festival will also be the first chance for many Kerouac fans to see the new exhibit on the author at the Lowell National Historical Park Visitor Center. Developed by Prof. Michael Millner, acting director of the Kerouac Center for Public Humanities, and Paul Marion, UMass Lowell executive director of community and cultural affairs, the exhibit covers Kerouac’s life and features recordings of his work. 

The festival will take place Oct. 6 through 10 with events and tours throughout downtown Lowell. For a complete list of events, visit the festival’s website