Monday, January 7, 2008

Jack Kerouac Exhibition at The New York Public Library Coincides with 50th Anniversary of On the Road

Diaries, manuscripts, snapshots, and personal items of Jack Kerouac, the visionary author whose pioneering work helped to established the Beat Movement in the United States, will be on display in Beatific Soul: Jack Kerouac on the Road, an exhibition on view at The New York Public Library November 9, 2007 through March 16, 2008. The exhibition coincides with the 50th anniversary of Kerouac's landmark novel, On the Road, which has captured the imagination of several generations and established its author as a major figure in American literature. The exhibition will be drawn almost exclusively from the contents of the Jack Kerouac Archive, housed in the Library's Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, and will display many unpublished Kerouac materials as well as typescript and manuscript drafts of On the Road. A major highlight of the exhibition will be the famous "scroll" typescript, on loan from James Irsay, owner of the National Football League's Indianapolis Colts, of which the first sixty feet will be unrolled in a specially-designed set of interlocking display cases. The scroll itself will be on display from November 9, 2007 through February 22, 2008; the exhibition continues through March 16, 2008. The exhibition will be located in the D. Samuel and Jeane H. Gottesman Exhibition Hall at the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Admission is free.

A host of literary and physical artifacts displayed in the exhibition will bring to life Kerouac's career as a writer, from his earliest journals to typescript and manuscript drafts of his novels, short stories, essays, and poetry to diaries, journals and correspondence. Kerouac was an assiduous diarist and journal keeper. In a 1939 journal entry, recorded upon arriving in New York to attend the Horace Mann School for Boys, he wrote, "I wish to say that this journal is a continual refreshing resource for my castle, which surrounds me; it keeps me aloof from teeming humanity; it keeps me in contact with myself. By that I mean that a continual flow of ideas from my turbulent mind find their way into these pages invariably." His journals, diaries, and correspondence reveal a mind consumed with the goal of finding a way to give his experience of life on and off the road its most effective creative expression, and the drafts of his fiction, poetry, and essays record the history of those efforts. Kerouac's minutely detailed fantasy baseball and horse racing materials, which he created as a boy and played with throughout his life, will also be on display. In addition, the exhibition will include photographs of Kerouac, his family and friends, as well as objects that Kerouac treasured throughout his life, such as the crutches he used following a football injury while playing for Columbia University, and items memorably described in his writings, such as his harmonicas, his Buddhist bells, and his railroad track lantern.

Other sections of the exhibition will be devoted to Kerouac's youth and passion for sports; his early literary influences, such as William Blake, Charles Dickens, Walt Whitman, and Thomas Wolfe, illustrated by the Berg's rare editions and manuscripts, as well as by books from Kerouac's library; and his spirituality, which drew from both Buddhism and Roman Catholicism. Most of Kerouac's principal novels, such as The Town and the City (1950), On the Road (1957), Maggie Cassidy (1959), and Big Sur (1962), will be displayed in early drafts or rare editions, as will a representative sampling of his unpublished poetry. The richness of the Beat movement will be documented in a major section that will display a few selections from the Berg Collection's newly acquired William S. Burroughs Archive, as well as manuscripts, rare publications, and drawings by and photographs of Gregory Corso, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and other Beat notables. This section will also include a few examples of the media-driven "Beatnik" phenomenon, through the lurid cover art of pulp paperbacks.

A companion volume to the exhibition, written by curator Isaac Gewirtz, will look at Kerouac's life and works through the lens of the journals, diaries, and other materials in the Kerouac Archive, much of which has not previously been available to scholars. This hardcover book will be extensively illustrated in 4-color with items from the archive, including not only manuscripts and typescripts, but also Kerouac's paintings and drawings and selected items relating to his fantasy baseball games. In addition, the Donnell Library Center will organize a complementary film series.

Beatific Soul: Jack Kerouac on the Road is on view November 9, 2007 through March 16, 2008 in the D. Samuel and Jeane H. Gottesman Exhibition Hall at The New York Public Library's Humanities and Social Sciences Library, located at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan. Admission is free. For more information, call 212-869-8089 or visit

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