The original version of “On the Road,” written by Jack Kerouac in the 1950s is coming to the second floor of the San Luis Obispo Library Friday, Sept. 21, at the request of a Cal Poly faculty member.
Kerouac wrote the entire novel over the course of three weeks on a single scroll of paper stretching 120-feet-long.
“On the Road” is part fact and part fiction as Kerouac spent several years observing and taking notes before producing his single-scroll manuscript. The book focuses on a whirlwind of drugs, sex and jazz during cross-country road trips to Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, and Mexico. “On the Road” became an instant classic and is considered a product of the ‘Beat Generation’ — an American social and literary movement focused on creativity and non-conformity.
The driving force behind the exhibit was Dawn Janke, Cal Poly Writing & Rhetoric Center Director. Not only has she been a Kerouac fan for many years, but she is also good friends with the scroll’s conservator, Jim Canary. They met in October of 2003 at a ‘Beat Generation’ conference in Kerouac’s birthplace, Lowell, Massachusetts.
“I read ‘On the Road’ as a high school student and it changed my perspective on life,” Janke said. “I grew up in a working class suburb of Chicago, where few traveled very far and even fewer were open to other ways of being in the world. Through Kerouac’s prose, I was invited to open up to experiences I didn’t realize possible.”
When Janke moved to the Central Coast in 2008, she said she was surprised to learn Kerouac had lived in San Luis Obispo for a short period of time during the 1950s.
According to a New Times article, Kerouac traveled to San Luis Obispo in 1953 to work as a railroad brakeman, assisting the train conductor over the grade between San Luis Obispo and Santa Margarita. He lived in the Colonial Hotel for $6 per week, according to the article.
Although Kerouac wrote “On the Road” on a 120-foot scroll of tracing paper sheets in April of 1951, the scroll was not published until 1957.
Inspired by the San Luis Obispo landscape, Kerouac continued to write other literary works during the gap between the completion and publication of his “On the Road” manuscript.
Janke proposed the idea to bring the scroll to San Luis Obispo and after an intricate process, including a proposal to the scroll’s proprietor, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, it was a success.
Isray purchased the scroll at an auction for $2.43 million.
Janke also coordinated with Chris Barnickel, San Luis Obispo Library Director, and members of the Coastal Awakening community group.
“We really hope it’s cross-generational,” Barnickel said. “There’s been quite a bit of verbal communication about how excited the community is to have the scroll in San Luis Obispo. I think everyone is eager to see the original scroll.”
The public display of the scroll is at San Luis Obispo County’s Coastal Awakening celebration, which showcases art and literature inspired by the Central Coast in September and October.
Coastal Awakening Committee member Eva Fina said it is rare to have a small community like San Luis Obispo showcase such a significant piece of artwork.
“What is profound about the Coastal Awakening is that we are connecting two things,” Fina said. “We are celebrating art and culture from years before us while also connecting ourselves to this legacy that already exists.”
The scroll will be displayed in its original form accompanied by a digital reading device that will allow visitors to see the text of the scroll as Kerouac presented it. The Shanbrom Family Foundation and San Luis Obispo Library split the $7,500 cost to bring the scroll to the city.
“I am hopeful the presence of the scroll and the other Coastal Awakening events will inspire our community to develop and demonstrate their own awakenings through social and artistic activism,” Janke said.
The scroll will reside in the San Luis Obispo Library for two months once it is transported from its current location at an exhibit in Fort Meyers, Florida.