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Happy 92nd Birthday, Jack Kerouac!

12 Mar

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAphoto I took two years ago at Kerouac’s birth home when I attended Lowell Celebrates Kerouac

On a Sunday in winter, Jean-Louis Kerouac was born to Leo and Gabrielle Kerouac in Lowell, Massachusetts. He was the baby of the family, the youngest of three, and his French-speaking family called him Ti Jean, or Little John.

It was March 12, 1922. Warren G. Harding, a Republican, was president and had just introduced radio to the White House the month before. Women had received the right to vote two years prior to that, but even the month before Kerouac was born the Nineteenth Amendment was still being challenged in court — a fact important to understanding the gender politics in which Kerouac grew up.

James Joyce’s Ulysses was first published that year by Sylvia Beach in Paris, and the experimental novel would impact Kerouac’s own writing. Kerouac himself would grow up to become the voice of his generation, the Beat Generation, a generation that had been born around the time of the Great Depression, that had seen the destruction of World War II and lost many friends and loved ones, that had faced a repressive government. Kerouac remains a startlingly refreshing voice even today, reminding readers to observe the sparkles in the sidewalk, to embrace life over possessions, to blaze their own paths.

KerouacCakephoto I took at Kerouac’s birthday bash last year at the Northport Historical Society

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Kerouac’s Hometown Inspires Charles Dickens

23 Dec

p112sIllustration (not of Mill Girl, fyi) by Marcus Stone, R.A., from Charles Dickens’ American Notes for General Circulation

Many authors have penned Christmas stories, but perhaps the most celebrated is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which has spawned Broadway musicals, a Disney cartoon, a Muppet retelling, a United Nations special by Rod Sterling, a Star Trek version, among so many others.

Is it possible that the inspiration for this Victorian novella came from Jack Kerouac’s hometown?

Natalie McKnight, a dean at Boston University, conducted research with student Chelsea Bray that suggests Dickens was inspired by the stories of the Mills Girls when he visited Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1842.

On one of my trips to Lowell to research Kerouac, my friend George Koumantzelis had given me a stack of newspapers, magazines, and flyers to aid in my studies. Among these was information on UMass Lowell’s seven-month-long celebration of Dickens’ trip to Lowell. I had edited new editions of the British author’s stories including his work American Notes for General Circulation, about 1842 trip to America. About to turn thirty years old, he had traveled from Liverpool (later home to the Beatles!) aboard the RMS Britannia and arrived in Boston, where he then visited mental hospitals, orphanages, and prisons around the country and visited with President Tyler.

Among the dots on his map was Lowell … also known as Mill City. Lowell was founded about twenty years prior to Dickens’ visit, as a center for textile manufacturing. Dickens came about two years after the height of the Industrial Revolution, when there were about 8,000 women working in factories in Lowell. If Dickens was inspired by their stories, it should go without saying that their existence was one of strife. About 80 women were packed into a noisy room from 5 am to 7 pm, working under the direction of two men. However, Dickens actually seemed to think well of the mills.

Dickens wrote:

These girls, as I have said, were all well dressed: and that phrase necessarily includes extreme cleanliness.  They had serviceable bonnets, good warm cloaks, and shawls; and were not above clogs and pattens.  Moreover, there were places in the mill in which they could deposit these things without injury; and there were conveniences for washing.  They were healthy in appearance, many of them remarkably so, and had the manners and deportment of young women: not of degraded brutes of burden.  If I had seen in one of those mills (but I did not, though I looked for something of this kind with a sharp eye), the most lisping, mincing, affected, and ridiculous young creature that my imagination could suggest, I should have thought of the careless, moping, slatternly, degraded, dull reverse (I have seen that), and should have been still well pleased to look upon her.

The rooms in which they worked, were as well ordered as themselves.  In the windows of some, there were green plants, which were trained to shade the glass; in all, there was as much fresh air, cleanliness, and comfort, as the nature of the occupation would possibly admit of.  Out of so large a number of females, many of whom were only then just verging upon womanhood, it may be reasonably supposed that some were delicate and fragile in appearance: no doubt there were.  But I solemnly declare, that from all the crowd I saw in the different factories that day, I cannot recall or separate one young face that gave me a painful impression; not one young girl whom, assuming it to be a matter of necessity that she should gain her daily bread by the labour of her hands, I would have removed from those works if I had had the power.

Though he clearly recognizes that the girls work long and hard, he describes the mills as well as the girls’ dorm rooms in a somewhat positive light, mentioning pianos and libraries.

It would seem that the mills girls were of a literary mindset. Beyond just mentioning the library, Dickens goes on to say:

Of the merits of the Lowell Offering as a literary production, I will only observe, putting entirely out of sight the fact of the articles having been written by these girls after the arduous labours of the day, that it will compare advantageously with a great many English Annuals.  It is pleasant to find that many of its Tales are of the Mills and of those who work in them; that they inculcate habits of self-denial and contentment, and teach good doctrines of enlarged benevolence.  A strong feeling for the beauties of nature, as displayed in the solitudes the writers have left at home, breathes through its pages like wholesome village air; and though a circulating library is a favourable school for the study of such topics, it has very scant allusion to fine clothes, fine marriages, fine houses, or fine life.

What Dean McKnight and Bray suggest is that Dickens lifted ideas from these girls’ stories. Kevin Hartnett at The Boston Globe writes:

Now, new research is suggesting that the book may have borrowed—quite liberally—from the amateur writings of the millworkers he visited.

After reading an obscure literary journal published by Lowell textile workers and comparing it to Dickens’s novella, a Boston University professor and student are arguing that some of the most memorable elements of Dickens’s story—the ghosts, the tour through the past, Scrooge’s sudden reconsideration of his life—closely resemble plot points in stories by the city’s “mill girls” that Dickens read after his visit.

They propose that the ghost trope of A Christmas Carol stems from several selections in The Lowell Offering. Comparing the Mills Girls’ stories with Dickens’, they have found several parallels that they believe go beyond mere coincidence or literary tradition.

Their research has created quite a stir online, and they haven’t even written their paper yet, let alone published it.

It’s well worth visiting The Mill Girls and Immigrant Exhibit at the Morgan Cultural Center to find out more about the fascinating lives these factory workers led.

The Morgan Cultural Center also happens to be where one of Kerouac’s typewriters reside. While Kerouac began writing about a hundred years after Dickens’ visit, he too was inspired by the Mill Girls. He didn’t want to be a mill rat. He wanted to get out of Lowell, to do something more with his life. As a struggling writer, he did eventually end up working for a short time at a mill in America, but he continually worked on his writing. While Dickens had come over to Boston by ship from Liverpool, Kerouac went to Liverpool as a merchant seaman. Like Dickens, Kerouac toured America, writing his own travelogue full of social commentary.

 

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

5 of the Most Famous People and Things to Come Out of Lowell

9 Oct

200px-Whistler_SelbstporträtWhistler’s self-portrait

You already know that Jack Kerouac was born in Lowell and set many of his books there, but the Massachusetts town is also the birthplace of several other famous people and inventions. With Lowell Celebrates Kerouac going on this week, I thought it would be fun to explore 5 fun facts about Lowell:

1.  The first AOL instant message was sent by a Greek American from Lowell

2.  Remember the drink Moxie? It was invented in Lowell. You can buy it here and visit the roadside attraction the Moxie Bottle House in Union, Maine

3.  The son of a railway engineer, painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler was born in Lowell and there you can visit the Whistler House Museum of Art

4.  The brilliant Greek American photographer Christopher Makos is from Lowell

5.  Lowell is also the birthplace of Bette Davis

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

Jack Kerouac’s Birthday Celebrations Happening Across the Country

7 Mar

Jack Kerouac’s birthday is coming up on the 12th, and there are a couple of celebratory events happening.

Lowell Celebrates Kerouac has several days of fantastic events centered around what might be my favorite (it’s hard to choose just one!) Kerouac book, Visions of Gerard. They will also be honoring David Amram, who has been a great mentor in my life and work:

Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! will be spotlighting Jack Kerouac’s deeply spiritual and Lowell-based book, Visions of Gerard, throughout this 50th anniversary year of its publication, starting with the birthday events of March 2013. March will feature music by celebrated world musician David Amram, musical collaborator and friend of Kerouac, an art exhibition, educational programs, walking tours, poetry, readings, and other cultural events that celebrate the life and writings of Jack Kerouac.

Friday 8 March 2013

Kerouac: People, Places, and Things
Time: 6:00 to 10:00pm
Location: Lowell Telecommunications Center Gallery, 246 Market St.
Kerouac-influenced art exhibition opening reception

The Magnificent Pigtail Shadow
Time: 6:30 to 7:45pm
Location: Lowell Telecommunications Center Gallery, 246 Market St.
A film by Steven Cerio with the director to present, plus a reading from Big Sur played against the director’s newest short

Music for Jack
Time: 8:00 to 9:30pm
Location: Lowell Telecommunications Center Gallery, 246 Market St.
David Amram and friends. A $10 donation is requested.

Saturday 9 March 2013

Amram and Marion
Time: 10:30am to 12:00pm
Location: Welles Emporium, 175 Merrimack St.
Help Lowell Celebrates Kerouac celebrate its new merchandise home at the Welles Emporium. Musician-author David Amram and poet Paul Marion help Lowell Celebrates Kerouac celebrate its new merchandise home at the Welles Emporium. David and Paul will do readings from their books and poetry as well as Kerouac passages with musical interludes by David. They will sign books and CDs.

Jack and Woody: Two American Originals
Time: 1:00pm
Location: Pollard Memorial Library, 401 Merrimack St.
Woody Guthrie and Jack Kerouac life parallels, talk by author Steve Edington.

Mystic Jack Tour
Time: 3:30 to 5:00pm
Location: Meet at St. Louis Church, 221 West Sixth St.
Led by master Kerouac interpreter Roger Brunelle, specially presented this year in honor of 50th anniversary of publication of Visions of Gerard. A $10 donation is requested.

Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Celebrates Amram!
Time: 8:00pm to ?
Location: White Eagle Cafe, 585 Market St.
Musical event with David Amram, the Part-Time Buddhas, and guest musicians. A $10 donation is requested.

Sunday 10 March 2013

Walking Jack Loop Walk
Time: 12:00 to 5:00pm
Location: Meet at Jack Kerouac Commemorative at Jack Kerouac Park, intersection of French and Bridge Streets
End at Old Worthen Tavern at 5:00 for toasting the birth of Jack Kerouac in March of 1922

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Kerouac Birthday Walk
Time: 6:00pm
Location: Starts at Centralville Social Club, 364 W. 6th St.
On Jack Kerouac’s 91st birthday, walk with LCK group to Lupine Road birth house for readings. The walk will start and end at Centralville Social Club (364 W. 6th St.) parking lot by the prominent Ace Hardware sign on Lakeview Ave., Centralville neighborhood.

Tuesday 19 March 2013

Reading of Visions of Gerard
Time: 7:00pm
Location: Pollard Memorial Library, 401 Merrimack St.
Tour of “Jack’s Library” followed by selected readings and discussion of Visions of Gerard on the 50th anniversary of its publication. This is Kerouac’s possibly most spiritual book as he remembers his childhood years and the deep impacts of his brother Gerard’s death. Sponsored by UMassLowell and Pollard Memorial Library. Funded in part by the Massachusetts Council on the Humanities.

Thanks to Welles Emporium, the Pollard Memorial Library, the White Eagle Pub, the Old Worthen Tavern, Lowell Telecommunications, and the St. Louis de France School for hosting our events.

I also learned via LCK that the Northport Historical Society is hosting a birthday celebration for Kerouac:

Writer/Playwright, Pat Fenton will be reading from his play “Jack’s Last Call, Say Goodbye to Kerouac”, as part of the March is Kerouac Month at the Northport Historical Society. Mr. Fenton will also discuss Kerouac’s Northport years as well as his importance to American literature.

It’s the end of summer in 1964. A major cultural shift is starting to happen in the U.S., and on his last night in Northport, Long Island the America Jack Kerouac saw through a rear view mirror riding along side his “On the Road” partner Neal Cassady is slowly playing again in his mind.

Long after a small going away party that he has thrown for himself is over; Jack keeps on drinking as he prepares to move to Florida with his mother. He reflects back on his fame, his youth as a football star in Lowell, Massachusetts, and the worry that his time has come and gone. As he sums up parts of his life to the audience in a bittersweet narrative, he receives a series of soul-searching phone calls from his daughter Jan.

An obligatory stop at Gunther’s Bar down the block on Main Street, where Jack Kerouac spent much of his Northport Years, will be made by the writer, and the conversation will continue over pints of tap beer.

The birthday celebration will take place on Sunday, March 10th at 3 P.M., at the Northport Historical Society, 215 Main Street, Northport, Long Island.

The Laughing Goat, a coffeehouse and performance space in Colorado, is hosting a poetry reading on March 11:

”So, You’re a Poet,” presents Jack Kerouac’s 91st Birthday Reading & On the Road film screening: The ”So, You’re a Poet” reading series by Boulder’s ”beat book shop” has several Kerouac events on its poetry calendar. Poets who have performed in this venerable, decades-old series include the late Allen Ginsberg, Bernadette Mayer (who will be in Boulder this summer for the Summer Writing Program), Diane di Prima, Janine Pommy Vega, Anselm Hollo, and many more. The series has always been hosted by poet and Kerouac School alumnus Tom Peters, owner of the Pearl Street landmark ”beat book shop.” The series was hosted for many years by the famous Penny Lane Cafe. In the introduction to Poems from Penny Lane Anne Waldman writes ”One thinks of the legendary Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich where the Dadaist movement was born, or the cafes and bars in San Francisco which spawned the Beat Literary Movement, also the cafe Metro and the Nuyorican Cafe, both in New York City’s East Village.” The series currently takes place in the new Laughing Goat Coffeehouse, which has strong ties to the original Penny Lane. Amiri Baraka, Miguel Algarin, Lewis MacAdams, and other poets read there during last year’s Summer Writing Program. The Laughing Goat is surely a Boulder literary institution in the making.

Are there any other Kerouac birthday celebrations we should know about?

How will you be celebrating? If you can’t make it to one of the events, maybe you could write a poem or read a passage from one of Kerouac’s books or stop by the Beat Museum in San Francisco.

 

Lowell of Yesteryear

11 Oct

It’s so much fun to attend Lowell Celebrates Kerouac and visit this great American literary icon’s old stomping grounds, many of which still exist today.  However, much of Lowell has changed over the years.  The streets are smoothly paved.  There’s a color television in almost every home.  UMass Lowell continually expands its presence.  New restaurants serving delicious food have opened up.  Even new communities of immigrants have moved in.  Instead of rotary phones plugged into the wall, people have iphones with apps.  A new family lives in Kerouac’s birth home.  Experiencing Kerouac’s Lowell is about more than just dots on a map.  You have to step back from the tour group, close your eyes and really listen to the rush of the Merrimack River.  You have to imagine a time period when chocolate chip cookies were a novelty, Art Deco looked crazy modern, and women used menstrual cups instead of tampons.  You have to imagine the Great Depression.  You have to imagine a gallon of gas costing 10 cents.  You have to hear swing music.  The NFL draft is a new concept.  Ball-point pens are invented.  And you are just a kid soaking it all in.  Jack Kerouac was born in 1922 and was a kid growing up in Lowell in the 1930s.  Here are a few nostalgic photos of Lowell….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy 90th Birthday, Jack Kerouac

12 Mar

 

Today would’ve been Jack Kerouac’s ninetieth birthday.

On March 12, 1922, French-Canadian immigrants Gabrielle and Leo Kerouac had their third, and last, child.  He was born at home, on the second floor of the brown house sitting at 9 Lupine Road in Lowell, Massachusetts.   This was in the West Centralville neighborhood, affectionately called Little Canada, of Lowell.  They baptized the baby boy in the Catholic Church.  His baptism certificate reads: Jean Louis Kirouac.  Although that was the standard Quebec spelling of the surname, the family spelled the name Kerouac.  They would call him Ti Jean, meaning Little John.  In fact, he would publish his first book, The Town & the City as John Kerouac.

 

 

I visited Jack Kerouac’s birth home when I attended Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! last October.  Apart from the plaque on the front of the house, nothing sets it apart as a any sort of landmark.  Today a new family lives in Kerouac’s birth home.  When the bus dropped my tour group off, the people came outside and gawked at us pilgrims just as we gawked at their regular-looking house.  I love touring authors’ homes and wish Kerouac’s had been preserved for visitors, but it seems fitting that it wasn’t.  After all, the Kerouacs moved often, and the house at 9 Lupine Road is just one of many that Kerouac lived in in Lowell.  Although he lived much of his life with his mother, Kerouac spent much of his time on the road and crashing at friends’ pads.  “Home” for Kerouac didn’t seem to be a house.

 

Wild Women on the Road

19 Jun

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I’ve been invited to teach again at the Hobart Festival of Women Writers! I’ll be teaching a writing workshop called Wild Women on the Road. Because why should Jack Kerouac have all the fun?!

Here’s the description:::

Bohemians, rockers, and nature lovers throughout history have blazed their own paths, inspiring generations of women to put the pedal to the metal—and the pen to paper. So why is women’s writing so often derided as “domestic,” and why do so many women’s travelogues read like chick lit?

We’ll discuss ways to elevate the genre in terms of both substance and style as we take a fast-paced ride along with Manal Al-Sharif (Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening), Lynne Cox (Swimming to Antarctica), Waris Dirie (Desert Flower), Patti Smith (M Train), and other women who defied conformity.

Geared towards those who want to advance plot while maintaining artistic style, in-class writing exercises will equip you with the roadmap you need through storytelling templates and literary devices. Choose your own adventure—and encourage other women to live more fully even within their own neighborhoods!

 

My writing class is on Sunday, September 8, from 9:30 to 11:30am. The Festival itself will be all weekend long, though, and you’ll want to stay for all the great workshops and readings and to get to know and rest in this cute little town in the Catksills. Hobart is called the Book Village because even though it’s tiny, it’s full of indie bookshops! It’s enough to make any bibliophile swoon.

You can register here.

In the meantime, I’d love to know: What are your favorite stories of women adventurers? Female explorers? Lady bohemians that blazed their own paths?

Want to read more on Hobart?

Want to read more on wild women on the road?

As always, join me on the road! You can find out where I’m appearing next here.

Anne Waldman, Penny Arcade, Jan Herman, Steve Dalachinsky & Aimee Herman Read Burroughs 101!

15 Mar

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Attending Three Rooms Press’ Burroughs 101 celebration at Cornelia Street Cafe has become an annual event for my friend and me. Last year’s phenomenal readings culminating in an epic communal reading brought the spirit of Burroughs and the Beat Generation to life, and it was no surprise that this year there were even more people in the audience than at the centennial event.

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Anne Waldman is captivating. I cannot keep my eyes off her when she recites her poetry. I can’t even call what she does “reading.” She sings, chants, tells stories. It’s deeper than performance. It’s like she becomes the poem. I heard her read at the First Blues event honoring Allen Ginsberg’s work at Housing Works. With Ginsberg, she founded the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. She was also friends with William S. Burroughs so it felt special to hear her read her friend’s work. Her son, Ambrose Bye, accompanied her at the Burroughs 101 event, weaving jazz music throughout her poetry. I definitely want to see them perform together again.

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Any time I get a chance to hear Steve Dalachinsky read I jump at the opportunity. The first time I ever heard the New York poet read was actually the first time I ever attended Lowell Celebrates Kerouac. After that, I ran into him at various other readings, but I am naturally shy and hate to appear fan-girlish so I was nervous about introducing myself. Fortunately, David Amram introduced me to Steve and his wife, poet Yuko Otomo, on my second trip to Lowell Celebrates Kerouac, so now I always enjoy catching up with Steve and Yuko when I see them. Steve does amazing jazz-poetry, and I tend to prefer hearing him read his own work, but he has such a reverence for Beat poetry that he gives reverence to Beat events that could otherwise come out cultish or immature.

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Jan Herman is a scholar. He’s someone I’d like to just sit down in a coffee shop with and listen to him talk and tell stories. And that’s what he did at the Burroughs 101 reading. In a conversational approach, he told stories about Burroughs.

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Aimee Herman kicked the evening off, bringing Burroughs’ rebellious and experimental spirit to life at Cornelia Street Cafe as she ripped up poems as she read. Burroughs, as most know, cut up his writing and rearranged it to form his work. Aimee Herman’s reading succinctly captured Burroughs’ literary methodology in that simplistic and stunning gesture.

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Penny Arcade is an authentic poet on the scene since I was old enough experience the contemporary New York poetry world. She closed the evening by reading Burroughs’ aphorisms. It was the perfect ending to a perfect reading.

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The Burroughs 101 celebration was hosted by Three Rooms Press’ very own Peter Carlaftes.

White Trash Uncut: The Resource Magazine Interview with Christopher Makos

20 Mar

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Around the same time that Jack Kerouac packed his rucksack and went on the road, Christopher Makos was born into a Greek American family in Kerouac’s hometown. In the June 2013 issue of That’s, Ned Kelly reported:

Christopher Makos was born in 1948 in Lowell, Massachusetts, the birthplace of pioneering Beat Generation writer Jack Kerouac; a heritage he was oblivious of in his youth. “Growing up in Lowell, I wasn’t aware of anything, except how to leave,” he says. “How to grow up fast and figure out how to leave.”

Sounds pretty Beat to me!

Makos went on to live in California and then, after high school, moved to New York and, later, Paris. It was there that he became an apprentice to the esteemed Man Ray. Back in New York City, he photographed the scene on the Lower East Side—Beat writer William S. Burroughs, the Ramones, Patti Smith, David Bowie, Lou Reed, and Debbie Harry are just a few of the icons who ended up in his book White Trash. Though it was the ’70s by this point, it’s got it’s Beat Generation connections. (If you’re interested in reading up more on this, I’d recommend Victor Bockris’ Beat Punks.)

Makos became friends with Andy Warhol, who called him the “most modern photographer in America.”

The latest incarnation of this seminal punk photography book, White Trash Uncut, is coming out in May 2014 (published by Glitterati Incorporated), and Resource Magazine’s Aria Isberto caught up with the Greek-American photographer to talk about the underground scene, what it takes to get published, and what kind of camera he uses. You can read it here.

Interested in my writing for Resource Magazine? Check out:::

Read more of my Lowell posts here. Among my favorites are:::

Read about other Greek Americans I’ve written about on my blog. Here’s a few selections:::

Which Greek American do you want to see me write about next?!

Link Love

28 Jan

The So-Called Beat Generation

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It’s Greek to Me

It’s a Swede Life

Travel Writing

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