While the name “Kerouac” evokes images of free-spirited wanderlust, the truer and deeper nature of this writer’s life and work cannot be fully understood apart from a knowledge of his family roots in Lowell, Massachusetts and his Franco-American ancestry. Kerouac spent the first seventeen years of his life in Lowell, and his feel for the rhythms of its streets and neighborhoods first stirred his literary consciousness.
As the 1999 posthumous publication of Atop an Underwood (Paul Marion, editor) demonstrates, Kerouac’s writing career actually began while he was still living in Lowell. After the 1957 publication of On the Road accorded him recognition as a best-selling writer, four of the novels Kerouac subsequently saw published deal largely or entirely with his early years in Lowell, with some of them reaching back to his family origins in Quebec. The novels are: Dr. Sax, Visions of Gerard, Maggie Cassidy, and Vanity of Duluoz. His first published novel (1950), The Town and the City, offers a fictionalized version of Lowell as “Galloway.”
Following the construction of the Jack Kerouac Commemorative in Lowell in 1988, and the annual Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! festivals that have followed, Lowell has become a must-visit place for Kerouac admirers and aficionados world-wide. The biennial Jack Kerouac Conference on Beat Literature, sponsored by UMass Lowell's Jack and Stella Kerouac Center for American Literature, attracts Beat scholars from around the United States, and various parts of the world as well. John Sampas, executor of the Jack Kerouac and Stella Kerouac estate, lives in Lowell and has generously supported a variety of Kerouac-related events and programs in the city and at the university.
Jack Kerouac’s road began and ended in Lowell, Massachusetts. He is buried in the City’s Edson Cemetery. For all of the far-flung places his road took him much of his spirit remained in his hometown. Whether he specifically mentions it or not, the presence of Lowell in the life of Jack Kerouac flows through all of his writing. He is truly a native son of Lowell, Massachusetts.
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