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11th Annual Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! Festival
October 1 - 4, 1998
Various Locations
Lowell, Massachusetts, USA

Isn't it rather silly for any town to try to lay claim to being the "home" of a free spirit such as Jack Kerouac? Haven't we always thought of Jack Kerouac as being rooted only by words on pages, cool Beat readings, and heated discussions in smoky bars? How dare Lowell, Massachusetts, claim him as a famous son, and even celebrate him today with the 11th Annual Kerouac Festival!?!

Well, these ingrained images are partly wrong. Kerouac's attachment to his hometown of Lowell was very strong. Jack Kerouac became a famous writer partly because he was a person of great contradictions. Was he a vagabond? Maybe. But just as important to him as picking up and going "On The Road" was turning around and going back home.

Jack Kerouac became the Beatest of the Beats, partly because of his free-form stream-of-consciousness writing style. This was a new thing, so part of Kerouac's trail-blazing was really his style of prose, not his life-style. He'd write about a trip across America, or up a mountain or two in Yosemite ("Dharma Bums"), in a style that not only complemented his wild life, but also made it seem wilder. But he always returned back home to Lowell, in life and in his writing, which is one of the reasons they still love him so much there and sponsor this tribute every year. It also helps that five of Kerouac's novels take place in Lowell.

Jack Kerouac really was an extreme character; anyone with friends like Alan Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs has got to be. But did you know that, although he embraced Buddhism, he was a fairly devout Catholic? That politically he was firmly on the right (he supported the Vietnam war, and was friends with William F. Buckley)? That he was devoted to and lived with his mother for much of his adult life, even after he became very famous? That he got his scholarship to Columbia not with brains, but braun--through a football scholarship? That he married Stella Sampas, a "hometown girl" acquaintance from his childhood years in Lowell, even though he was probably in love with her brother Sammy? Or that he was an anti-semite whose best friend, Alan Ginsberg, was a Jew?

The town of Lowell knows, accepts and celebrates this mixed-up world of Jack Kerouac, their favorite native son. After growing up there, moving to Berkeley and San Francisco, then moving with his mother, Gabrielle, to Long Island, Kerouac returned to Lowell with his mother (before finally moving to St. Petersburg, Florida, where he died at age 47 in an alcoholic swirl).

To celebrate the different sides of Mr. Kerouac, Lowell has put together an interesting program. You can go on Thursday's "Ghosts of the Pawtucketville Night" Walking Tour of Kerouac sites, or Friday's awesome 4th Annual Beat Symposium, all day from 8 to 5 (sponsored by the University of Massachusetts at Lowell). On Friday you can also enjoy poetry and music at "Old Angel Midnight": A Kerouac Evening. While there are many other events from Thursday through Sunday, the most jam-packed day is Saturday, with about a dozen readings, bus tours, children's performances, and dances.

Lowell, Massachusetts, can rightfully lay claim to Mr. Kerouac. They've put together a wonderful few days of programs and activities which will allow both longtime Kerouac fans and curious newcomers to understand, admire and enjoy the twisted life and literature of Jack Kerouac. And to probably end up even more confused about him.--NT

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