Jack Kerouac’s typewriter, on display in Lowell, Massachusetts. Kerouac attended Lowell High School, and Lowell hosts an annual festival to Kerouac. Photo from the on-line photos of the Beat Museum on Wheels (image downloaded and linked on June 6, 2007)
Kerouac appears in almost all U.S. history texts for high schools, and is to cover the post-World War II poetry mentioned in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).
Poet and author Jack Kerouac was the “King of the Beats.” The Beats were a group of poets and authors who gave rise and verse to the “Beat Generation.” The word “beat” is short for “beatitude.” Not only do most high school kids struggle with this character from U.S. history — in what should be a very fun section — many high school teachers have only vague understanding of the whole Beat movement.
Kerouac wrote On the Road, considered the key book out of the Beats. I assume it was written on the typewriter pictured above (though in may have been written on the typewriter pictured below). Wholly apart from its literary merits, which are many, the book is famous for other things. It was written in stream-of-consciousness style, with Kerouac simply sitting down to create the thing in a relatively short creative fury, without the common author conventions of outlines and serious editing. In fact, the entire book was written on one scroll of paper, similar to the old style of paper that used to dominate newspaper newsrooms across America (and which we still used at the Daily Utah Chronicle prior to 1980 — with manual typewriters, mostly Underwoods).
In addition, on Saturday the San Francisco Public Library opens a display of the original manuscript of Jack Kerouac‘s “On the Road.” Kerouac’s manuscript beats all: It is a scroll 120 feet long that Kerouac used to produce his book on a typewriter in an amazing 20-day writing frenzy back in 1951.
Kerouac was not just a genius and a guru to a whole generation. He could type like the wind — 120 words a minute, according to legend. Though only 36 feet of the original scroll will be on display, it comes complete with strikeovers, pencil marks, and scrawls in a style he called “spontaneous prose.” One end of the manuscript is tattered, chewed by a friend’s dog.
If students don’t remember a book written on one page, 120 feet long, chewed by a dog, which scroll sold at auction for $2.43 million, they are brain dead. One should not need mnemonic devices to remember such startling bits of history — this is the stuff good history classes are made of.
(The scroll will be on display in Lowell from June 15 to September 14, 2007, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the publication of the book. You can see the scroll at the Boott Cotton Mills Museum of the Lowell National Historical Park, which is an outstanding place to study the Industrial Revolution in America — you can get a twofer, the start of the Industrial Revolution, and the 1950s Beat reaction to industrialization of America.)
The Beat Museum on Wheels grew out of the Beat Museum in Monterey, California, which moved to the Beat Museum in San Francisco. According to the website, you may invite the museum to stop by your high school — 2007 tours still being scheduled. Call 1-800-KER-OUAC.