Kerouac manuscript on display at Columbia College

More than 60 years after "On the Road" author Jack Kerouac rolled into Chicago as part of his iconic cross-country travels, the original manuscript of the 1957 book he based on his journey goes on display today at Columbia College Chicago.

The manuscript, a 120-foot scroll that Kerouac taped together in order to type continuously, features single-spaced typewritten prose, with no margins or paragraph indentations, and marked throughout with Kerouac's penciled-in editing.

The scroll, exhibited around the country since 2004, will remain in Chicago at the college's Center for Book and Paper Arts, through Nov. 26.

The 1957 book is an account of Kerouac’s three-year travels across the U.S. and Mexico. Kerouac's account of a visit to Chicago in 1947 occurs at the very beginning:

          "I arrived in Chi quite early in the morning, got a room in
the Y, and went to bed with a very few dollars in my pocket.  I dug
Chicago after a good day’s sleep.

  "The wind from Lake Michigan, bop at the Loop, long walks
around South Halsted and North Clark, and one long walk after midnight
into the jungles, where a cruising car followed me as a suspicious
character.  At this time, 1947, bop was going like mad all over America.
 The fellows at the Loop blew, but with a tired air, because bop was
somewhere between its Charlie Parker Ornithology period and another
period that began with Miles Davis.  And as I sat there listening to
that sound of the night which bop had come to represent for all of us, I
thought of all my friends from one end of the country to the other and
how they were really all in the same vast backyard doing something so
frantic and rushing-about.  And for the first time in my life, the
following afternoon, I went into the West."

Kerouac proceeded to take a bus to Joliet and continued on to Denver.

The manuscript, typed in what is described as a marathon three-week writing session, includes accounts of Kerouac's encounters with other Beat writers, including Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Neal Cassady.

Kerouac's publisher, VIking Press, asked him to change the names for publication, which he did, naming them Carlo Marx, Old Bull Lee and Dean Moriarty respectively. Kerouac is Sal Paradise in the novel. 

Last year however, as part of a 50th anniversary edition, the original names were restored to the book.

The Scroll was purchased in 2001 by Indianapolis Colts' owner Jim Irsay, for $2.4 million. The scroll's caretaker, James Canary of the Lilly Library at Indiana University Bloomington, suggested to his friend Bill Drendel, then gallery coordinator at the Center for Book and Paper Arts, that the scroll be exhibited at the Center as part of its five-year tour, which ends next year.  

Canary says he has enjoyed looking after the scroll. “Every place [the scroll has been] adds its own unique touch highlighting their collections or their locale in the context of the novel," Canary wrote in an e-mail.

The Center for Book and Paper Arts plans to showcase local experimental literature and poetry throughout the exhibit. The opening will feature local experimental poets reading their work.  Among the Chicago poets who will read are Ed Roberson, Nathalie Stephens, Kerri Sonnenberg and Garin Cycholl, according to the Center.

Tony Trigilio, a professor of  creative writing at Columbia who has
written the books "Allen Ginsberg's Buddhist Poetics" and "Strange Prophecies Anew: Rereading Apocalypse in Blake, H. D., and Ginsberg," says that "On the Road" was the first significant "Beat" novel, a genre defined by its authors' rejection of mainstream American values and open exploration of drug use, sex and Eastern philosophy.

Reached by e-mail, Trigilio wrote that with the publication of "On the Road," readers began to see that Beat literature was a mode of writing that "explored the boundaries between writing and visual art, and between writing and music (especially jazz).”

Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl”, published the year before, also contributed to this perception, Trigilio added.

As to the novel’s place in American literature, Trigilio said that the novel inspired a generation of readers to take road journeys of their own in what Kerouac, who died in 1969, described in his novel "The Dharma Bums" as a “rucksack revolution":

"...I see a vision of a great rucksack revolution thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to mountains to pray, making children laugh and old men glad, making young girls happy and old girls happier, all of 'em Zen Lunatics who go about writing poems that happen to appear in their heads for no reason and also by being kind and also by strange unexpected acts keep giving visions of eternal freedom to everybody and to all living creatures.”

In addition to the scroll, 18 versions of the novel's cover from around the world, from the collection of Kerouac scholar Horst Spandler, will also be on display. Trigilio suggests that visitors pay attention to the "physicality of the scroll" and how it shaped the writing of the novel. 

The exhibit, part of a two-month long exploration of the Beat Generation that includes academic panel discussions, lectures, poetry readings and fashion and photography exhibits, continues through November 26.

The center for Book and Paper Arts is at 1104 S. Wabash Avenue.