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Finding Jack Kerouac in St. Petersburg, Florida

March 22, 2013 in American literature, Classic Literature, Florida Travel, Jack Kerouac

When most people imagine a literary trip paying homage to the great Jack Kerouac, they envision a profound cross-country adventure in the vein of his classic, On the Road.  After all, finding Kerouac is an elusive journey, not quite the same as visiting the Globe theatre for a slice of Shakespeare.

Yet, some Kerouac fans are rallying to raise the money to restore the Florida home where he lived towards the end of his life.  Kerouac resided in St. Petersburg in the 1960s with his mother and his third wife, Stella.  The small brick house, at 5169 10th Ave. N., is still owned by the author’s brother-in-law, John Sampas.  It has been mostly vacant since the 1970s, although it is still home to some Kerouac memorabilia, including his desk, which is adorned with a 1969 telephone directory for Lowell, Massachusetts.  An announcement still hangs on the wall announcing Lowell’s celebration of “Jack Kerouac Day.”

Pat Barmore, one of the Kerouac aficionados behind the fundraising endeavor, graduated from a Florida high school in 1969 and set off on a Kerouac-inspired road trip.  Upon returning home he found the author had passed away.  Barmore and others are working together to start “Friends of Jack Kerouac,” a non-profit organization with a goal to raise money for the restoration of Kerouac’s home.  They hope to someday soon restore the house to its former state and possibly open it up for the public.

With this goal in mind, they hold concerts at a St. Petersburg bar, the Flamingo, where Kerouac was a frequent patron.  The bar is an unassuming local joint and, apart from some technological upgrades, a couple flat-screen TVs and some Kerouac memorabilia, not much has changed since Kerouac stepped inside. It is often referred to as the bar where Kerouac had his last drink on October 21st, 1969.  Of course, this cannot be verified, but it’s a romantic notion for the Kerouac fans that stop in the Flamingo for “a shot and a wash” – a Kerouac special that gets you a shot of whiskey and a beer to chase it with.

The Friends of Kerouac also sell t-shirts at the Flamingo to raise money for their cause.  The shirts feature Kerouac’s visage on one side and a passage from On the Road on the other.

Although, at the present time, Kerouac’s St. Petersburg residence is rundown, its mailbox remains a popular destination for fans, who still send mail to the long-deceased writer.  One letter thanks Kerouac for inspiration, stating “Your work is why I write,” while another hand-delivered message is a bit more vague.  ”Hey Jack, We came by to say hello. Sorry we missed you.”

If the Friends of Jack Kerouac are successful, the doors to the author’s abode may be open once more.

Fauxscar Nominee: On the Road

January 8, 2013 in American literature, Classic Writers, Literary Movies, Travel, Travel Writers

A brief reflection on literature, and an even briefer one on the movie, On the Road.

Jack Kerouac’s On the Road captured the beat of a generation. It bottled the spirit of a time and intoxicated generations to come with the sweet, burning lust to wander. The story tells of a youth at odds with society and a society just beginning to redefine itself. Kerouac’s voice is heard clear through pages that read like they were written on a single script, beckoning to the young and restless to strap on their packs and hit the road. The novel has become an American passage and one of the first milestone-reads of most any literary traveler.

Walter Salles’ On the Road is said to pale in comparison to the novel it adapts. Unfortunately, I can’t say this with any surety because I still have not seen the movie. Funny to think that Kerouac’s home state would not have one theater with a showing, but maybe I was lucky. From the reviews I have read, it seems I’ve been saved from disappointment. Though most reviewers agree that Salles has stayed painstakingly true to the novel (he traced Kerouac’s footprints throughout the entire country with an old camcorder), the consensus is that he has failed to convey the voice and passion of Kerouac as he jitterbugs through the America of the 50’s.

It’s a shame too. It was always Kerouac’s intention to make the novel into a film. He even wrote Marlon Brando a letter asking him to play Dean Moriarty. Brando never responded and Kerouac never made the silver screen. Unfortunately, great literature is hardly ever successfully adapted to film, if only because being literature is exactly what makes it great.

Behind the Article: “On the Road” with Kat Clay

October 8, 2012 in Behind The Article, Jack Kerouac, John Steinbeck, Travel Writers

Jack Kerouac display at City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco. Photograph by Kat Clay

After reading about Kat Clay’s cross country road trip in our September 24th article, “Jack Kerouac and John Steinbeck on the Californian Coast,”  we couldn’t wait to chat more with the author about her incredible experiences and how her literary predecessors paved the way for her own adventure.

Literary Traveler:  What was it about Jack Kerouac’s cross country journey that initially drew you in?

Kat Clay:  It’s the sense of freedom you get from his novels. There’s a grand sense that everything will work out, as if time stops for these young people to get on the road. I’ve always longed for that kind of freedom. The books are almost fearless; there’s no worry about getting mugged or losing your passport. Kerouac paints a picture of America that captures an era when people were making their own rules. The messages of his books still ring true today.

LT:  How has Highway One changed over the years?  What can travelers expect as they traverse it on road trips today?

KC:  Highway One has become busier, that’s for sure. When we drove it there was a lot of road work around Big Sur, which slowed the traffic down to 25 MPH. It’s not good for your sanity to drive around winding roads at a snail’s pace! And road trips themselves have changed – we now have GPS units to help instead of maps, but I think that’s a good thing. Many a marriage has been saved by the GPS. But there are still places on Highway One that haven’t changed at all. I remember stopping in at a general store when we got lost that was straight out of Jaws. There are still 1950s bungalows and weatherboard shacks. The state parks still have the same coastline. And the fog is most definitely still there.

LT:  While Kerouac’s words can’t replace the personal experience, literature seems to have a unique way of representing the magic of place.  If maps, as you so eloquently put it, “are statistics of natural beauty,” what is literature?

KC:  Good literature will always capture the feeling, the nostalgia and the wonder of a place. I could read a book and imagine a place completely different from how the author has described it, but still get the same sense that the author felt in that moment.

And good literature can somehow capture a part of you that can’t be expressed. It’s incredible when a writer connects with your soul, as if they are writing just for you and you alone. My writing instructor told me that every writer is looking for their perfect reader. I think when you discover your perfect writer you need to hold onto them!

LT:  You talk about the limited power of photographs.  Do you think writing helps to preserve aspects of a powerful experience where a camera may fail?

KC:  One of the most important lessons I’ve learned as a photographer is to know when a moment is simply there to be enjoyed. Writing helps capture the spirit of place, which is infinitely more difficult to do in photography. While photography can capture the intricate details of a rock, writing can compare it to the texture of a mottled ostrich egg.

But for me, writing and photography are inextricable. On display in the art gallery in Jackson, Mississippi are some of Eudora Welty’s photographs – who knew she was a photographer as well as a writer? She inspired me, because I’ve always struggled with the thought that I might need to separate my two passions in order to have a career in one. Lewis Carroll was also a prolific photographer. I think the two art forms compliment each other perfectly; photography is a wonderful tool for documenting moments to inspire later writing. I use it as much as I would take notes.

LT:  What are some of the other highlights from your trip across America?  What was the most inspiring thing you saw or experienced during your travels?

KC:  Can I say the whole trip? Three months in the states is a long time! The southwest National Parks are incredible reminders of our own small place in the universe. I fell in love with Utah. I also got to celebrate many of the American holidays that we don’t have in Australia, like Halloween in New Orleans and Thanksgiving in New Jersey. One particular highlight was giving an impromptu rendition of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire in a Louisiana Cajun Café.

The most inspiring moment: One of my husband’s relatives is a flight instructor and he took us up in his Cessna over New York City at night. I got to co-pilot the plane. It was incredible and also very moving to fly over the city.

If you’d like to read more, my husband and I documented our USA trip (and our continuing travels) on our travel website, Two Monkeys in a Tent.

LT:  Navigating roads once traveled by Kerouac and spending the night in a campground once frequented by Steinbeck seem like incredibly profound experiences.  How did the knowledge that you were following in the footsteps of these literary greats impact your experience?

KC:  Traveling to these places made the books more real for me. I think it’s important not just to follow the same paths as writers like Kerouac, but instead to pursue the same spirit. For me following in their footsteps wasn’t always a literal go-here-do-that, it was also a spiritual pursuit at emulating that great sense of freedom you get from being on the road in America.

With Steinbeck it was the opposite. A month after Highway One I was reading Travels With Charley in Search of America and I realized we’d stayed in the same place as Steinbeck. It was an epiphany, because I had felt the same as he did atop Fremont Peak. He also expressed a lot of my feelings about traveling in America.

LT:  It seems as though Kerouac acted as a muse of sorts in inciting your desire to drive across America and take your own journey.  What advice do you have for literary travelers looking to find their own travel inspiration?

KC:  Take inspiration from literature to blaze your own trails. The most important lesson I learned from Steinbeck and Kerouac was to break free of expectations.  Break free of the clutches of television and social media— because someone’s status update about being stuck in traffic seems pointless when you’ve just seen elks playing in the sunrise over Yellowstone Lake.

I met a lot of people in America who were amazed by our trip and wished they could do something similar, but there was always an excuse. My career won’t survive.  I don’t have the money . I’m going to do it when I’m old.  Do you know what the RV crowd told us repeatedly on our trip? You’re so lucky to do this when you’re young.

The same goes for writing. If you’ve ever longed to be a writer, you need to travel. Gather experiences— experiences are more valuable than any graduate school. I love reading stories of how writers became writers, and for many of them it was the experiences that made them. Try reading about James Ellroy’s road to publication, which involved stealing ladies panties and passing out in a public park (I don’t suggest you emulate this!). Travel is an investment in yourself and your person. You can’t put a price on that.

LT:  I think I have just found my travel inspiration in this interview! Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences with us.  Readers, check out more from Kat Clay at her fabulous website and then power off your computer and find your own adventures.

Southern Hospitality: A Spring Road Trip through the Literary South

April 5, 2012 in American literature, Classic Literature, Southern Writers, Travel, Travel Writers

Painting by David BatesWith winter winding to a close, there is no better time to hop in the car, roll down the windows, and enjoy the warm breezes of spring as you venture off to places unknown.  From John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley to Jack Kerouac’s iconic On the Road, literature is ripe with tales of road trips, penned by authors sharing their experiences traveling the country.  With summer fast approaching, isn’t it time to imagine your own cross country adventure?

Over the years I’ve often planned hypothetical road trips for myself, drawing zigzagging lines with a Sharpie across maps of the United States, hopeful to take my own journey one day. But of all the lines I have drawn, my favorite always takes me a southern route from the North East down through Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana. I believe one reason it’s my favorite route is because the South has been so vividly portrayed in literature. From the grandiose to the grotesque, Southern writers from Flannery O’Connor to Margaret Mitchell have painted brilliant portraits of the South in their works.

While I long to witness the natural beauty the South has to offer, see the Mississippi River and experience the splendor of the Louisiana bayou, I am sure even these urges have their root in my experience of Southern literature.  So it only makes sense that on any road trip through the Southern U.S., literary travelers pay homage to the literary greats that lived and wrote there. While New Orleans is well known for its associations with literature, from Tennessee Williams to Truman Capote, the South is brimming with less well-known but equally fascinating ways to connect with literary history.

In Atlanta, Georgia, let the wind take you in the direction of the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum on Peachtree Street.  While it took Mitchell almost a decade to finish the epic Gone with the Wind, you can tour the museum in a couple of hours, viewing her living space and a selection of her letters.  Travel to Atlanta this April 20-22nd, and receive free admission to the house during the Atlanta Dogwood Festival, an event that draws artists from around the world.

If you take your adventure to Savannah, visit the one-time residence of writer Flannery O’Connor.  While A Good Man is Hard to Find, the author’s childhood home, located on East Charlton Street, is not!  The house where the author resided from 1925-1938 contains some of the original furnishings.  For more O’Connor memorabilia continue on to Georgia College and State University, where there is a room dedicated to the famous alumnus that houses her writing desk and typewriter, among other artifacts including the author’s own personal library of more than 700 titles.

In Mississippi, honor William Faulkner with a visit to his Rowan Oak estate located in Oxford.  Originally built in 1844, the property is now owned by the University of Mississippi and visitors are admitted to view the space where Faulkner lived and worked for over thirty years.  The Oxford, MS Convention & Visitors Bureau offers a more extensive map of “Faulkner Country.” So download one here, and meander at your own pace through the stomping ground of this twentieth century great.

Like John Steinbeck wrote in Travels with Charley, “we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” The next stop is up to us.

 

Friday Links: Book News From Around The Internet

March 12, 2010 in Uncategorized

Every Friday, the staff at Literary Traveler will gather uImage via Amazon.comp the relevant book news from around the web, bringing it together in a handy post for book lovers to peruse.  Enjoy!

  • The American Book Review asked several university professors to contribute some nominees to their list of America’s 40 Worst Books.  Some of their choices are – in our humble opinion – debatable.  They’ve included a personal favorite of mine, The Great Gatsby, on the grounds that it is “smug.”  Also on the list: Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road and Cormac McCarthy’s All The Pretty Horses.
  • On this day, in 1948, Jack Kerouac turned 26.  He wrote in his journal:  “Guess what?! – on my birthday today, wrote 4500-words(!) – scribbling away till six-thirty in the morning next day. A real way to celebrate another coming of age. And am I coming of age?”  Check out Barnes and Nobel Review for more reflections.
  • Dave Eggers, novelist and founder of McSweeney’s, is also blowing out the candles on his birthday cake today.  Help him celebrate (in spirit, if not in person) by checking out  this fascinating interview with Eggers about his new book, Zeitoun.
  • Is it possible to become a famous poet simply through social networking?  That’s the argument Jim Behrle made the other day when speaking to a crowd at the St. Mark’s Poetry Project.  “Self promotion is the only kind of promotion left,” he said.
  • Ebooks are a little scary to many of us bibliophiles, but they may be the greenest way to access academic books and other frequently-updated texts. However, the case for the e-reader is a little more complicated than it might initially seem.
  • And finally, congratulations to author Gail Haveren, translator Dayla Bilu, and everyone at Melville House.  Haveren’s novel The Confessions of Noa Weber was just awarded the 2010 Translated Book Award For Fiction.