March 12, 1922 – October 21, 1969
Jack Kerouac was only forty-seven years old when he passed away. The day before he died, he’d been drinking whiskey and writing at his home in St. Petersburg, Florida, when he suddenly felt ill. He called out to his wife, a Greek American from his hometown of Lowell, and Stella Sampas Kerouac got him to St. Anthony’s Hospital, where he ultimately died from his internal hemorrhage. He was buried in Edson Cemetery in Lowell, in the Sampas family plot.
Photo circa 1921, “The World’s Work” (June 1921 issue), via Wikipedia
The man who perhaps best captured the glitz and the glam of the roaring twenties, F. Scott Fitzgerald, was born on September 24, 1896, in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Fitzgerald is, of course, the author of The Great Gatsby, This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and Damned, Tender Is the Night, and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” He was connected with a group of expatriates living in Paris, who became known as the Lost Generation.
It was this Lost Generation that inspired Jack Kerouac to come up with the term the Beat Generation when he was having a conversation with John Clellon Holmes one day. However, in many ways, Kerouac’s content is dissimilar to Fitzgerald’s. F. Scott — named after Francis Scott Key, the lyricist of “The Star Spangled Banner,” and his second cousin, three times removed (whatever that means!) — glamorized America’s economic boom during the Jazz Age, while Kerouac glamorized the American hobo that sprung up following the Great Depression. Yet, their language, their syntax, is similar in capturing all that jazz.
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Life Continues to Be Absurd: Saul Bellow, Jack Kerouac, F. Scott Fizgerald, and Eugene O’Niell
Along with two other very talented writers and editors, Maurice and Nana, I will once again be hosting the Redeemer Writers Group after our summer hiatus. The dates for our fall “semester” have now been finalized:
September 22, 2014. 7-9pm.
October 20, 2014. 7-9pm.
November 17, 2014. 7-9pm.
The writing workshops are completely free and open to anyone interested. Please bring a one- to two-page work of your own writing in any genre that you would like critiqued to share with the group. We are a Christian-based group open to writers of all skill levels and genres. The writing workshop will be held at the Redeemer
Offices, 1359 Broadway, 4th Floor, Main Conference Room. NYC.
Simona David attended my writing workshop at the Festival of Women Writers in Hobart, New York, this weekend and afterward asked to interview me for her radio show! We sat down in the lovely Wm. H. Adams Antiquarian Books, where she asked me about how I got my start as a writer, who my mentors are, and the book I coauthored with Paul Maher Jr., Burning Furiously Beautiful. The interview airs today at 1pm EST on her show “Accent on Mondays” on WIOX, 91.3 FM in the Catskill Mountains.
Simona is an author as well. She wrote the essential art guide Art in the Catskills and Self-Publishing and Book Marketing: A Research Guide. It was so great chatting with her and getting to know her and her work.
Jack Kerouac’s On the Road turns fifty-seven years old today! It’s such a vibrant work that continues to inspire people to pick up a pen or hit the road that it’s hard to believe it’s been around for so long.
The above picture is what the novel looked like when it first came out. Paul and I actually emulated its design on the title page of Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” which I personally was excited about! Since 1957, Kerouac’s novel has undergone many, many cover transformations. I talked about the significance of these design changes here. And I talked about On the Road’s “girly” makeover here.
The novel has since inspired other artists, such as Tim Z. Hernandez, who actually tracked down “the Mexican girl”; Larry Closs; Jonathan Collins; and J. Haeske.
The film adaptation (you can read my experience going to see it here), which has a long history, came out recently and starred some of Hollywood’s biggest names. It sparked a lot of dialogue, including whether Hollywood was glamorizing the Beats.
Of course, even when it was first published, On the Road received criticism for its morality or lack thereof.
Despite these digs at its morality, one of the creeds I’ve heard over and over again — and with which I disagree – is that On the Road is a book only for teenagers.
And if you’re not a teenager and you read On the Road, it supposedly makes you undateabable. Unless maybe you’re a woman.
It seems like everyone has an opinion about On the Road. What’s yours?
I went to Philly the other day and visited the site of printer and author Benjamin Franklin’s house. To get there, I had to pass through this little tunnel:::
The sign made me laugh. Imagine being so famous that historians noted not just the site of your house but the little passageway you walked through to get there! His house is no longer standing, but excavations show aspects of the infrastructure. The signage there is equally humorous, as it seems to reveal a strange relationship between Franklin and his wife, Deborah Read. He seemed very concerned about her ability to manage the household and seemed to think she might burn the whole place down. I was so fascinated by his strange letters to her that when I got home I did a little digging into their relationship. It turned out that our Founding Father wasn’t in a traditional marriage! Apparently, he had proposed to dear Deborah but her mother didn’t approve of him so while he was traipsing through merry old England, Deborah married some rake who took her money and ran, never to be heard of again. Ben and Deb technically then entered into a bigamous, common-law marriage. They had two children together and also raised Franklin’s illegitimate child. They don’t teach that in the history books in school!
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Maybe one day Lowell will put up a bunch of signs pointing out where Jack Kerouac went to church and where he wrote while he drank. My friend George Koumantzelis, who is the nephew of Kerouac’s friend Billy Koumantzelis, recently brought Grant Welker’s article “Is Lowell missing the Kerouac beat?” for The Sun to my attention. Welker writes:
Lowell has a small park with a memorial on Bridge Street dedicated to Kerouac and has a walking tour organized by the National Park Service, but it doesn’t have a permanent center — a museum, library or open-to-the-public childhood home — dedicated to the writer, whose popularity continues to grow here and abroad more than 45 years after his death.
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What books on Benjamin Franklin would you recommend?
Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, a Ghanaian-American writer living in New York who wrote the heavy coming-of-age novel The Powder Necklace, recently interviewed me for her blog, People Who Write. She asked the best questions!
Here’s to hoping your Labor Day plans don’t look like how my travel plans went the other day….
The summer 2014 issue of Resource features an article I wrote that I’m extremely proud of. I interviewed the founder of Flashes of Hope, a nonprofit that takes photographs of children with cancer, to talk about how the portraits empower these children. The professional portraits also serve as lasting mementos for the families of the 25% of the children photographed who don’t survive. The nonprofit shows just how powerful art can be.
Cancer is a personal subject for me. This summer I did a few readings from a chapter I wrote called “Grief Gone Wild” about the summer I lost both of my grandmothers to cancer a month apart from each other. I was glad to likewise get to put my creative nonfiction to positive use to write this article on Flashes of Hope and show that moments of strength, beauty and even joy can be found even in the midst of trying times.