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Jack Kerouac’s Personal Items Are Subject of Exhibit Opening Oct. 8

UMass Lowell to Present Free Events About and Inspired by Beat Writer

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Jack Kerouac, Lowell native and beat generation icon, is shown at his typewriter. A selection of Kerouac's belongings go on exhibit for the first time at UMass Lowell on Oct. 8.

09/22/2015


Media contacts:  Christine Gillette, 978-934-2209 or Christine_Gillette@uml.edu and Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or Nancy_Cicco@uml.edu

LOWELL, Mass. – In the last days before he died at age 47, Jack Kerouac spent much of his time at a simple wooden desk in a bungalow in St. Petersburg, Fla. Around him were objects that shed some light on the writer’s complex and sometimes divergent interests: family photos, religious figures from both Christianity and Buddhism, cat carriers he fashioned by hand from wood, a telephone book from his hometown of Lowell.

In October 1969, Kerouac was rushed to the hospital and never returned home. More than 40 years later, that home looked as if Kerouac had just stepped away from his desk when UMass Lowell professors Todd Tietchen and Michael Millner arrived. The pair, both well-known for their research and writing on Kerouac and other beat generation icons, ventured into what seemed like sacred ground on the invitation of John Sampas, brother of Kerouac’s late wife Stella and executor of the Kerouac literary estate. 

The faculty members were there at Sampas’ behest not only to visit, but to collect Kerouac’s desk and some of his other possessions to bring them to UMass Lowell, home of the Jack and Stella Kerouac Center for Public Humanities and keeper of the online Kerouac archive, www.jackkerouac.com. Millner serves as director of the center and Tietchen has edited several volumes of Kerouac’s work, including the previously unpublished novella, “The Haunted Life.”

On Thursday, Oct. 8, an exhibit of Kerouac’s belongings – including the desk, the cat carriers, a favorite windbreaker from Lowell Tech (now part of UMass Lowell) and a variety of figurines representing what the author held dear – will officially open at UMass Lowell. 

“There was something uncanny – something simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar – about moving through the house that Jack moved through, touching the daily objects of life that Jack touched and used,” said Millner, director of UMass Lowell’s Jack and Stella Kerouac Center for Public Humanities. “We left Jack’s house with a different sense of him as a person than we had entered with, and we hope to capture that new sense in this exhibit.”

“I went into the experience thinking like a scholar, wondering what we might discover in Kerouac’s final milieu,” said Tietchen. “Once we started to handle Jack and Stella’s belongings, however, things began to change for me. It felt gratifying to be in the house with John and Mike, and to be responsible for packing and shipping those personal effects back to Lowell.” 

Tietchen said he found himself handling the task as if he was doing so on behalf of a deceased family member or friend, adding, “I began to care about the journey in a way I hadn’t initially expected. I think those who attend the exhibit will experience a similar sense of being ushered into Kerouac’s private space.”

Called “Kerouac Retrieved: Items from the John Sampas Collection,” the exhibit will be on display at UMass Lowell’s Allen House over the fall semester and is made possible by Sampas and the Kerouac Center, as well as the university’s College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and its English Department. The interactive exhibit was designed by Boston-based Proun Design.

“When we realized the historical and literary value of what we had acquired, we knew we wanted to make these items available for Kerouac scholars and fans to see,” said Julie Nash, associate dean of undergraduate programs for the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. “We are honored that John Sampas has entrusted the university with these items.”

The Oct. 8 opening event, which begins at 3 p.m., will feature remarks by Tietchen and Millner, who will share what it was like to visit Kerouac’s former home, as well as insight into what they collected and its meaning to the beat icon. Other speakers are scheduled to include UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacquie Moloney

“Bringing his belongings to UMass Lowell is a little like bringing Jack Kerouac back to his hometown. Those who view the exhibit will be able to see the desk where Kerouac wrote and the objects that surrounded him where he worked and lived,” said Moloney. “This is another example of the university’s commitment to bringing important events and unique cultural opportunities to the campus and the community.”

Following the speaking program at the opening, “Race, Ethnicity and the American Hipster: A Panel Discussion” will be held at 3:30 p.m. and will feature Jean-Christophe Cloutier of the University of Pennsylvania, Tim Z. Hernandez of the University of Texas El Paso and D. Quentin Miller of Suffolk University, whose discussion will be inspired in part by essays about race by Norman Mailer and James Baldwin. Moderated by UMass Lowell English Prof. Keith Mitchell, the program is sponsored in part by Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! 

UMass Lowell will host three other programs that are free and open to the public: 
  • Acclaimed poet, playwright, actor and lyricist Michael McClure will present a reading at Allen House on Monday, Oct. 5 at 3:30 p.m. Kerouac contemporary Allen Ginsberg once described McClure’s poetry as a “blob of protoplasmic energy.” The program is presented by UMass Lowell’s Kerouac Center, Writers on Campus and the Office of Community and Cultural Affairs. 
  • “Detective Work in Literary Archives: Claude McKay, Samuel Roth and Jack Kerouac” on Friday, Oct. 9 at 3:30 p.m. will feature Cloutier discussing the work to authenticate a previously unknown novel by McKay that was written in the 1940s and discovered in 1991, as well as the challenges and thrills of research in literary archives, including Cloutier’s work to find, transcribe and recreate Kerouac’s writings in French. The event is sponsored by the university’s Department of World Languages and Department of Philosophy and UMass Lowell Libraries.
  • “The Price of the Ticket,” a feature-length documentary about writer James Baldwin, will be screened on Tuesday, Oct. 13 at 3:30 p.m. in the Comley-Lane Theatre, South Campus, 870 Broadway St., Lowell. The screening, sponsored by UMass Lowell’s English Department, will be followed by a question-and-answer session with the documentary’s director Karen Thoresen.
For more on the exhibit and events, and the role of Lowell in Kerouac’s work, visit www.jackkerouac.com.

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