The course, "Jack Kerouac and the Beat Writers," was first offered by Professor Jay McHale at Salem State College during the Spring Semester of 1973 when Kerouac, as a writer, seemed to be at a low ebb. He had died in St. Petersburg, Florida on October 21, 1969 and was waked and buried in the town of his birth, Lowell, Massachusetts, on October 24, 1969.
At the time of his death, Kerouac was being portrayed as a drunken bum and a cartoon character who made academics feel uncomfortable. He was viewed as nothing but a blue collar guy who wrote blue collar novels. After all, he had written On the Road (1957) on a scroll in a three week burst of energy in the spring of 1951.
During the end of 1972 and early 1973, however, a turning point in Kerouac's reputation as an artist and person began to occur. The first full biography, Kerouac by Ann Charters, was published during the same time as Kerouac's posthumous Visions of Cody was released in December 1972. "Reconsideration: Jack Kerouac" by Crawford Woods was published in the December 2,1972 issue of the New Republic. Poet Allen Ginsberg was featured in an interview in the January 1973 issue of Gay Sunshine discussing his sexual relationship with Kerouac, and the February 1973 issue of Playboy featured "Gone in October," an account of Kerouac's funereal by his friend and novelist John Clellon Holmes.
The Kerouac Symposium held at Salem State on April 4th and 5th 1973, was meant to enhance the first offering of the Beat Writers course. At the time, very few courses on the Beat Writers were being offered in colleges but, because many of Kerouac's friends were only in their late forties and early fifties, the moment seemed right for a conference to access the life and artistry of Jack Kerouac.
The invited guests included Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, John Clellon Holmes, and Peter Orlovsky, all of whom are thinly disguised characters in Kerouac's novels. Also invited were Aaron Latham, who was working on a Kerouac biography, Professor Charles Jarvis from Lowell Technological Institute, who taught a course on the Beat Writers and knew not only Kerouac, but many of his boyhood chums from Lowell, and artist Stanley Twardowicz from Northport, New York, who was friends with Kerouac when he lived in that town.
The Symposium began on April 4, 1973 with the showing of the film Pull My Daisy (1959) in which Kerouac speaks the voices of all the characters, three of whom, Ginsberg, Corso and Orlovsky, were present for the screening. That evening, Ginsberg and Corso gave a poetry reading of works they had written about Kerouac and poems they admired written by Kerouac. This took place in the Main Auditorium at Salem State. A listing of the poems from this reading is available in Soundings East, Volume 21, Number 2, Spring/Summer 1998, along with some of Ginsberg and Corso's remarks.
During the morning of April 5, 1973, an audio tape of Kerouac at a party in Northport was played by Stanely Twardowicz and a kinescope of Kerouac's appearance on the Steve Allen Show was provided by Aaron Latham. In the afternoon, before an overflow crowd in Veterans' Hall in the College's Student Union building, a conference featuring all of the Symposium invitees was held. A transcription of this conference is available in Soundings East, Fall/Winter 1979. A remembrance twenty five years after the Kerouac Symposium is also available in Soundings East, Volume 21, Number 2.
This online exhibit is meant to highlight some of the moments of the 1973 Kerouac Symposium with photographs, streaming video, and audio clips from the symposium.