Thursday, July 07, 2016

Keeping the Kerouac Flame Alive in Lowell by Steve Edington

***About a decade ago I interviewed Steve Edington about the Kerouac Festival in Lowell, Mass. He has been involved with the festival for many years, and has written extensively about the Beat Generation and Kerouac. So I asked Steve to write a piece for the BASPPS, and The Somerville Times. Somerville is a very literary town, so I want to remind  Somervillians  about this festival-- a short distance away, and also tell others about the great work these folks are doing in keeping the "word" alive..

Keeping the Kerouac Flame Alive in Lowell

By Steve Edington

When it comes to preserving Jack Kerouac’s literary and cultural legacy, there is probably no greater band of hearty and dedicated souls than the people who have made up the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Committee during the past near-thirty years.

We put on an annual 4-5 day Kerouac Festival in Lowell every October, with a smaller scale observance of the author’s birthday in March. In October it’s a weekend of literary tours, open mikes, theme speakers, art exhibitions, and musical events—with an overlay of high comradery among Kerouac devotees of all ages.

For many years now the wrap up event has been the annual Amram Jam with composer, jazzman, and Kerouac collaborator David Amram providing the back-up for all who wish to read their favorite Kerouac passages or their own Kerouac inspired work. Now at age 85, David continues to bless us with his wonderful presence each year as he lends his amazing musical skills to many of our October and March happenings.

Over the years a number of “beat luminaires” and scholars (some still with us and some not) have come to Lowell to be a part of the scene and to help us honor and celebrate Jack Kerouac’s roots. They include, in addition to Mr. Amram,: Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Gregory Corso, Ray Manzarek, Henry Ferrini, Ed Sanders, Willie Alexander, Regina Weinreich, Ann Douglas, Diane DiPrima, Rhoney Stanley, Douglas Brinkley, Ann Charters, Joyce Johnson, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, John Sinclair, Anne Waldman, Ann Charters, and Robert Creeley, to name a few.

LCK had its origins in the mid-1980s in the effort to build the Jack Kerouac Commemorative in what is now Lowell’s Kerouac Park. This arrangement of triangular marble pillars, with works of Kerouac inscribed on them stands at the corner of Lowell’s Bridge and French Streets. Following the Dedication of the Commemorative in the summer of 1988, LCK continued on as the producer of the annual Kerouac Festivals and Kerouac Birthday Celebrations. The Commemorative is the site of our annual “Commemorative at the Commemorative” event each Saturday morning of the LCK Fest.

One of LCK’s founding members, Mr. Roger Brunelle, remains a member of the Committee and conducts the annual Kerouac Tours each October. His tours include many of the sites Kerouac refers to in his five Lowell-based novels, as well as the author’s birthplace and gravesite. Many of the neighborhoods Kerouac describes of the Lowell of the 1920s and 30s have remained remarkably well in place, bearing many of the traits Kerouac portrays. The tours also reflect the basis of much of Kerouac’s spirituality, especially the neighborhood in and around the St. Louis de France Church and School that Jack writes of in Visions of Gerard.

Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about the LCK Organization is its resilience and its perseverance. Over the near three decades of its life it remains an all- volunteer organization with no paid staff or office. The Committee meets monthly year-round to plan the October Festivals and March Birthday Celebrations. Its support comes from an annual donor appeal, occasional modest cultural council grants, sales of merchandise, requested donations for certain Festival events, and the like. Our largest major donor to date is Mr. James Irsay, owner of the NFL franchise Indianapolis Colts, and the high bidder for the original “scroll” manuscript of On the Road when it was sold at auction in May of 2001. In the fall of 2014 Mr. Irsay made a donation of $10,000 to LCK.

Over the course of its life, seven persons have served as LCK’s President: They are: Brian Foye, Richard Scott, Mark Hemenway, Steve Edington, Lawrence Carradini, and Mike Wurm. The current President is Judith Bessette of Dracut, MA.

There is an interesting parallel between the Kerouac Renaissance that began in the mid-to-late 1980s, and the Lowell Renaissance of roughly the same period. Lowell has staged a remarkable civic and cultural comeback over the past 30+ years following a period of drift and decline, with the creation of the Lowell National Historical Park playing a significant role in that comeback.

Over that approximate same period of time the Kerouac literary star has risen to scarcely imagined heights. He is now recognized as a major American, and global, literary and cultural figure of the latter half of the 20th century; and that legacy now strongly continues into the 21st.

Standing astride these twin renaissances has been, as previously noted, a hardy and dedicated band of brothers and sisters known as the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Committee. With the donation of countless hours of their time, and making it all work on shoe-string budgets, they keep the Kerouac flame brightly burning in Jack’s hometown.

Readers can keep themselves abreast of LCK happenings by checking out its website at

Steve Edington is a 25 year member of the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Committee and a past President. He currently serves as the LCK Treasurer. He is a Unitarian Universalist minister, residing in Nashua, New Hampshire, and currently serving as the Interim Minister of the First Church, Unitarian of Littleton, MA.

Steve is the author of Kerouac’s Nashua Connection, The Beat Face of God—The Beat Generation Writers as Spirit Guides, and Bring Your Own God—The Spirituality of Woody Guthrie. He is in the early stages of a book on the above described parallels between the twin renaissances of the Kerouac legacy and the City of Lowell, Massachusetts.

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