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Photo of the Week – Jack Kerouac’s, On the Road

120 feet of words to be exact. Jack Kerouac captured the beating heart of a generation – one of wanderers, writers, and dreamers – with his iconic novel On the Road, written in one sweeping session of 20 days in the spring of 1951.

The single piece of paper (which is really tracing paper sheets taped together), ancient in its tea-like stain and torn edges, personal in its hand-written corrections, and inspiring in its fervent immediacy, is a testament to all that is, or was, “Beat” – a more free approach to self-expression, non-conformity, a bohemian lifestyle, among many other characteristics. The Beats wrote about sex, drugs, jazz – more than enough to shock our postwar nation’s elders and enough to invigorate their children. Kerouac compiled notes from journeys across America to create the closely autobiographical nature of On The Road, sometimes accompanied by anyone from Neal Cassady to Allen Ginsberg. Even though there was exceptional attention paid to Kerouac’s fortnight feat, the novel had been taking form long before the author’s almost overnight success, in between scribbling lines at Cassady’s and exploring each state he visited in great detail.

How did the scroll end up here? Aside the fact that it is on tour at museums and libraries across the country, Indianapolis Colt’s owner Jim Irsay bought the scroll in 2001 and Jim Canary of Indiana University has been its conservator since.

To me, the beauty of On the Road is its timeless appeal of the great American road trip we all want to take, with those fearless zealots that we call friends and the never-ending search for inspiration in a world that becomes all to familiar with daily life.

Who’s who in On The Road

Real-life person/Character name

Jack Kerouac / Sal Paradise
Gabrielle Kerouac / Sal’s Aunt
Alan Ansen / Rollo Greb
William S. Burroughs / Old Bull Lee
Joan Vollmer / Jane
Lucien Carr / Damion
Neal Cassady /Dean Moriarty
Carolyn Cassady / Camille
Hal Chase / Chad King
Henri Cru / Remi Boncoeur
Bea Franko / Terry
Allen Ginsberg / Carlo Marx
Diana Hansen / Inez
Joan Haverty / Laura
Luanne Henderson / Mary Lou
Al Hinkle / Ed Dunkel
Helen Hinkle / Galatea Dunkel
Jim Holmes / Tom Snark
John Clellon Holmes / Tom Saybrook
Herbert Huncke / Elmer Hassel
Frank Jeffries / Stan Shephard
Allen Temko / Roland Major
Bill Tomson / Roy Johnson
Ed Uhl / Ed Wall

On the Road Again with Jack Kerouac and Robert Frank is open at the IMA now through September 21.

Filed under: Art, Exhibitions

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