One evening, a student came into our writing workshop at The New School and announced he’d bought a typewriter. We were all very impressed.
“What kind?” we asked.
“Where did you get it?”
Most of us were in our twenties or thirties and had grown up using computers. Many of us had entire mini computers—smart phones—jammed into our pockets and purses at that very moment. We’d attended readings in bars across Manhattan, where authors had read poetry off their iphones.
But a typewriter! Now that sounded really literary. The click-clack of the keys echoing in a bare-bulb room. Allen Ginsberg’s first-thought-best-thought mantra forced upon a generation accustomed to the “backspace” button on our keyboards. Facebook procrastination less accessible.
And the history! Continuing the beautiful tradition of authors attached to specific models of typewriters.
This evening, the documentary The Typewriter will screen at the Lowell National Historical Park Visitor Center Theater (245 Market St.) as part of the Lowell Film Collaborative with Lowell Celebrates Kerouac. Here’s a little bit about the film from its website:
Three typewriter repairmen the filmmakers have interviewed all agree that their business is better than it has been in years.
Perhaps it is a reaction to the plugged in existence of today’s 24/7 communications world. Perhaps it is mere nostalgia and kitsch. Perhaps it is an admiration for the elegance of design and the value of time-tested workmanship. And for some, like typewriter collector Steve Soboroff, it is the appeal of owning machines on which American writers like Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Ray Bradbury, John Updike and Jack London typed some of their finest work. (He also owns typewriters once owned by George Bernard Shaw and John Lennon)
The film is directed by Christopher Lockett and produced by Gary Nicholson. You can read fascinating typewriter stories here.
As for Jack Kerouac, he owned several typewriters throughout his lifetime but most famously used a 1930s Underwood typewriter. His father was a printer, so even from a very young age, Kerouac was in a world full of language, literacy, typography, and printing presses. Not surprisingly, he had a reputation for being a speed typist. myTypewriter.com offers some background information on Kerouac’s—as well as other literary figures’—use of typewriters. Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road will also include information about Kerouac’s typewriter. Larry Closs‘ novel Beatitude also includes a plot involving Kerouac and typewriters.
Here’s a tip for those of you attending Lowell Celebrates Kerouac or if you happen to find yourself in Lowell any other time: you can see one of Kerouac’s Underwood typewriters, and other memorabilia firsthand at the Mill Girls and Immigrants Exhibit at the Morgan Cultural Center. It may sound like an unlikely place to view some of Kerouac’s possessions, and it’s not really well advertised, so it’s easy to miss if you don’t know about it, but the exhibit is open 1:30-5:00pm except on major holidays. It’s free, but even if it weren’t the entire exhibit is fascinating. The case display for Jack Kerouac is very small, but literary pilgrims will appreciate it nevertheless, since it’s rare to have opportunities to view his personal travel gear and typewriter in person. The exhibit is engaging in retelling the story of immigration to Lowell. Many of the immigrants were from Greece so the exhibit gives insight into the influence of Greek culture on Lowell.