Beat movement author Jack Kerouac honored in St. Petersburg

10/18/13 Janelle Irwin
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It’s Jack Kerouac Week in St. Petersburg and there are lots of celebrations coming up this weekend to commemorate the author’s life and accomplishments. Margaret Murray is heading up an effort to turn Kerouac’s home into a museum similar to the Hemingway House in Key West.

"He's widely known as the person who started the Beat movement that has a really important role in post 50's literature. He had published 17 novels, he wrote a film, he has some poetry out and he's one of the few authors that every single one of his books are still in print today. There's just this incredible enduring appeal and "On the Road", that sells over 100,000 copies a year, still."

For our listeners who may not know, can you explain what the Beat movement is?

"The Beat movement is so many things to so many different people but it was really this sense of taking the establishment and upending what it stood for. This was a time in America's history where for the first time teenagers weren't going straight from their parents home to a marriage. There was a whole sense of mobility and freedom that teenagers and young adults had never had before. You couple that with automobiles and writing and jazz music, all of this kind of created this critical mass."

The significance locally; I know you have an effort going on in St. Petersburg, can you explain that?

"Yes, he lived here a few times throughout his life. The house that we are trying to preserve and maintain was actually a second residence. He and his mother had actually lived in the house next door as well, but he spent the last 3 years of his life here from 1966 to 1969. Did some writing, did some revisions to "On the Road", and he also passed away here at St. Anthony's hospital when he was 47."

What does his work mean to you, why have you taken such a vested interest in this?

"The thing that really I love about Kerouac's work is that you can find something at every stage of your life to appreciate. I first came across Jack Kerouac when I was younger and I was like "Oh my God, the sex, the drugs, the music, the traveling on the road. And now there are other aspects like his writing, the craft of his writing is what appeals to me now."

The Jack Kerouac house in St. Petersburg. Where are you at in that process and what needs to happen?

"We are raising awareness about the house and Jack Kerouac's time here and we've been in talks with the executor of the estate and he...those are ongoing negotiations. We're just waiting to see where we end up with that. But we feel it's such a vital part of St. Pete's history, it's something that people have known about for so long but there's never been a concerted effort to really preserve this house, maintain it, and make it a part of St. Pete's cultural offerings. It's funny, I was just talking last week to the director of the Hemingway House and I was just 'oh my god, it's taking so long'. He said, 'oh no, no, no, this could be decades.' We're talking about a very complicated estate, a lot is at stake here and he actually eased my mind. He said, 'you know, this happens all the time. It happened with us, it happened with other authors'."

Composer David Amran and John Mcuen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band will play at the Palladium in downtown St. Pete Friday night in remembrance of Kerouac. And Saturday night is Kerouac Night at the Flamingo in Northeast St. Petersburg where the author had his last drink – a shot of whiskey and a wash of beer.

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