A celebration and
reading of Jack Kerouac's novel
A 4-city marathon
reading with music on July 22 2001
Welcome to the official website of the marathon reading of Beat author Jack Kerouac's book BIG SUR.
Conceived by poet and historian George Wallace and led by honorary co-chairs David Amram and Carolyn Cassady, the day will feature nearly 150 readers, musical performance, and appearances by contemporaries of Kerouac.
In addition to Amram and Cassady, scheduled for appearance is poet Philip Lamantia (left), one of three poets who read with Allen Ginsberg at the historic 1956 Six Gallery reading in San Francisco that helped launch a new literary movement in America. Actor Keir Dullea, star of the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey, is scheduled to read.
"In spite of the phenomenal success of ON THE ROAD, Jack was no one shot flash in the pan. He was first and foremost a great writer," said Amram, an internationally known musician and author who was Kerouac's main musical collaborator. "These historic four city readings of BIG SUR, presented by George Wallace and a distinguished group of readers, puts into perspective four of the cities as well as many of the people who were significant in Jack's life."
"In BIG SUR I found a change in his writing," said Cassady, an artist and author who along with her husband is the model for a central figure in many of Kerouc's fictionalized works. "I don't know if it was a turning point, but in this book he was much more honest, more objective as well as subjective, far less self-conscious. I felt it a step forward in his writing, but a sad prediction of what was to become of him."
"I am delighted to have David and Carolyn as honorary co-chairs of this event, and pleased with the enthusiastic response shown by people in San Francisco, New York, Lowell and Orlando to the idea of celebrating Jack Kerouac's classic book, BIG SUR," said George Wallace, editor of Poetrybay and curator of the Northport Historical Society. "Kerouac is immortalized by ON THE ROAD, the classic novel of 1950s America. Less well known are his other accomplishments as an author, in particular this insightful novel. We hope to change that a little with this year's four-city celebration."
In San Francisco, Dariana Hayward of Poetrybaywest and Marsha Garland of the North Beach Chamber of Commerce are organizing the day's activities. Lawrence Carradini, president of Lowell Celebrates Kerouac!, is heading up the effort in that city, with support from LCK! and the Lowell Heritage State Park. Orlando programming is being organized by Marty Cummins and Loren Ford of the Kerouac Project, a writer in residence program at a home once owned by the author. And in Huntington, the Northport Historical Society is a major organizer, with organizer BJ Cassidy, and the Huntington Arts Council sponsoring an open air concert by David Amram at Heckscher Park to put a cap on the day's activities in all four cities.
The celebration commemorates the day in 1960 that Jack Kerouac got on a train in Northport NY and traveled to California, where he stayed for several weeks in a cabin in the Big Sur and among friends in San Francisco. This experience formed the foundation for his masterful book BIG SUR, written in a two week period in Florida after his return from the trip.
Organizers consider BIG SUR an important literary work and an apt counterpoint and companion piece to Kerouac's world-famous novel "On The Road," written ten years earlier and published in 1957 to early critical acclaim and widespread societal impact.
"In contrast to the youthful exuberance of On The Road, Kerouac's BIG SUR is a searingly honest and mature look at issues of mortality and the challenges facing an individual in the face of middle age and impending personal decline," said Wallace. "There is much that is disturbing in the novel, in terms of its message about the terrifying challenges to the human spirit. But it also contains the uplifting message that there can be transcendence from the psychic pain of existence, through visionary insight - a message inherent in much Beat literature. Moreover, in terms of literary style Big Sur is a continuation of Kerouac's signature linguistic pyrotechnics and acute psycho-social insight -attributes that mark the career of this major figure in 20th century American Literature."
Professor James T Jones terms BIG SUR the penultimate chapter in the Delouz saga, the overriding structure of Kerouac's literary oeuvre. And critic Richard Meltzer calls it Kerouac's "masterpiece, and one of the great, great works of the English language a...great first-person now-I-begin-to-die novel (that) documents a few weeks of horror as Jack was pushing 40 at Lawrence Ferlinghetti's cabin overlooking the Pacific..."
The event is an outgrowth of the July-September 2000 Northport Historical Society and Museum exhibition "Kerouac in Northport," organized by Wallace, an unprecedented exploration of the author's life and times from 1958-1964 while he was living in that community. "Jack Kerouac is increasingly recognized as a major figure in 20th century American literature, and it is exciting to see communities across America celebrate him as one of their own," he said.
"BIG SUR is a riveting account of what unwanted noteriety does to a true artist," concluded Amram. "The book takes us on his roller coaster journey as he deals with all of the triumphs and trauma of this period of his life. Jack was and remains his own best spokesman and biographer. He also was a reporter for our era, and a poet speaking for an underground army of people who had no voice that could ever surface to be heard."