Wednesday, October 19, 2016
LOWELL, Mass. – “Everybody goes home in October,” wrote Jack Kerouac in his novel “On The Road,” and hundreds did as they celebrated the beatnik literary icon in his hometown last weekend.
The Lowell Celebrates Kerouac foundation, founded in 1985, is a nonprofit with a mission of “promoting a better understanding and appreciation of Jack Kerouac's life and literature,” according to their website, lowellcelebrateskerouac.org. The foundation relies solely on volunteers and funding from donations, corporate gifts, grants and sale of books and T-shirts in order to host literary programs and events yearround, in addition to the annual Kerouac festival in October and the March 12 celebration of the author's birthday. The foundation also helps to maintain Kerouac Park and Jack Kerouac Commemorative, a memorial to the writer located on Bridge Street in downtown Lowell.
“Some people live paycheck to paycheck; we live festival to festival,” said Steve Edington, member of the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac committee for the past 25 years. “The festival costs around $5,000 per year.” Edington said LCK draws about $2,500 per year from a pool of donors; the rest of the money comes from merchandise sold at the festival as well as donations collected throughout the weekend and occasional grants.
The festival ran Oct. 6-10. Events included tours of Kerouac's “Lowell Places” – locations around the city he described in his novels, including a tour of Kerouac's Nashua connections – with lectures, concerts, gallery openings and open mics.
“Over the past 15-20 years, Kerouac has become recognized as kind of a global literary figure. People come to Lowell every year to honor and celebrate his life. We want to do right to honor his life for the people that come to visit every year,” Edington said.
Friday night featured the Jack Kerouac tribute concert at Mill No. 5 with special guests David Amram – jazz composer, pianist and longtime friend of Jack Kerouac – along with Will Dailey and William Fitzsimmons. The concert was a benefit and information night for the proposal of the new Jack Kerouac Cultural Center, to be located at the Smith-
Baker Center on Merrimack Street, a historic building now used for storage purposes, according to Edington. The concert was sponsored by the Coalition For A Better Acre, but supported by LCK to draw awareness and attention to the project.
“It would make the building part of the Lowell art, cultural and music scene again, and give Kerouac proper recognition,” Edington said.
This year, LCK observed the 50th anniversary of the publication of “Satori in Paris,” Kerouac's autobiographical novel about tracing his familial roots to France. Several of the weekend's events revolved around this observance, including a two-and-a-half hour marathon reading of the novel on Saturday at the Pollard Memorial Library. A small group of Kerouac enthusiasts gathered to read and listen in “Kerouac corner” (dedicated in March 2015) where Kerouac would skip school to read.
Though the turnout for the event was small, Sean Thibodeau, Coordinator of Community Planning for the Pollard Library, has hopes for more marathon readings in the future. “It's a good way to engage with the language and with his words in a nontraditional way,” he said.
Perhaps the weekend's most anticipated event was the annual “Amram Jam!” on Sunday at the Old Worthen. The room was filled with people who came just to listen, and others who signed up to read a poem with musical accompaniment by pianist David Amram in classic jazz poetry style, created by Amram and Kerouac in the 1950s.
“Just listen to the music in the words and you'll know what to play. When in doubt, leave it out, less is more,” Amram said about using music to compliment poetry. Amram also played “Pull My Daisy,” a song he wrote with Kerouac, as well as several songs with special guests Don Ouelette and Jason Eisenberg.
During his events throughout the weekend, Amram stressed the importance of creativity and coming together to celebrate art. Karen Seshel, a nurse who lives in Lowell, read a passage from Kerouac's “Visions of Gerard” at an open mic Saturday and has been attending the festival on and off for the past 5 or 6 years. She said the “spirit of generosity and acceptance” is what brings her to the festival every year, as well as inspiration for her own writing.
“The arts allow you to express yourself and for those who are not in the artistic world … you're kind of held to a different standard, and so it's just freeing to come … It's really the sense of community and knowing that it's there and it's possible.”
Jordyn Haime is a freshman Journalism student at the University of New Hampshire at Durham.
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