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Beatific Soul: Jack Kerouac on the Road

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November 9, 2007 through March 16, 2008

Program Locations:

Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, Gottesman Exhibition Hall

This exhibition will explore the life and career of the Beat writer and poet Jack Kerouac, including the evolution of On the Road and other works; his unique amalgam of Christian and Buddhist spirituality; and his attitude to the movement that he felt had forsaken its beatific roots and purpose. The exhibition will draw on the contents of the Jack Kerouac Archive, housed in the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, and will display many of Kerouac’s unpublished manuscripts, drafts and notes for published works, diaries, journals, correspondence, drawings and paintings; his minutely detailed fantasy baseball and fantasy horse racing materials; and unpublished photographs of him and his family. Punctuating the exhibition at various points will be the objects that Kerouac treasured throughout his life, including the crutches he used after suffering a football injury while playing for Columbia University, his harmonicas, Buddhist bells, and his railroad track lantern.

At the heart of the exhibition lies On the Road itself, fifty years after its initial publication. The exhibition showcases its three extant typescript drafts, including the famous scroll, on loan from James Irsay, and many of its manuscript proto-versions. Scores of the thousand or so substantive emendations that Kerouac made in the novel’s various drafts will be on view, showing how the published text differs dramatically from the scroll’s, but also demonstrating that Kerouac’s advocacy of “spontaneous prose” and the principle of “first thought, best thought” was qualified not only by the demands of his editor, but, often, by his own critical eye, at least at this point in his writing career.

Also to be displayed are a few selections from the Berg Collection's newly acquired William S. Burroughs Archive, as well as manuscripts, rare publications, and drawings by and photographs of Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and other Beat notables, which will document the richness of the Beat movement.

This exhibition has been made possible, in part, by the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Bequest for English and American Literature.

Support has also been provided by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency.

Additional support has been provided by Martha Fleischman, Viking Penguin, and The L Magazine, the exhibition's Media Sponsor.

The original scroll of Jack Kerouac's On the Road will be on view from Friday, November 9 through Sunday, February 24. The exhibition will be closed from Monday, February 25 through Friday, February 29. Reopening on Saturday, March 1, the exhibition will continue through Sunday, March 16; during this period, a full-size facsimile of the scroll will be on view.