Tuesday, 30 December 2008


3 December 2008 – 28 January 2009
University of Birmingham; Barber Institute
Jack Kerouac: Back On the Road
The original manuscript scroll of Jack Kerouac’s seminal novel, On the Road, goes on display in Europe for the first time at this unique exhibition organized in collaboration with the University’s Department of American and Canadian Studies. In April 1951, Kerouac sat down in front of a portable typewriter to begin writing, on sheets of tracing paper cut to size and taped together to form a scroll 120 feet long, the work that was to become the bible of the post-war Beat Generation.
The novel was completed after twenty days of continuous typing, fuelled, despite rumours to the contrary, by no other drug than caffeine. To a large extent autobiographical, and based on his own travels across America, On the Road tells the story of Sal Paradise and his friends and acquaintances — characters based on Kerouac himself as well as on Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and others. It tells of their fascination with jazz, the landscape of America, women and sexuality, and is the archetypal ‘road-trip’ tale. One of the most valuable literary manuscripts in existence, the scroll was bought in 2001 by a private collector, but has been on public tour to museums and libraries across the United States since 2004. To coincide with the 50th anniversary of the novel’s first publication in Britain in 1958, the scroll will be on show at the Barber alongside maps, photographs, album covers and memorabilia that explore the novel’s genesis and its times. A catalogue and series of connected events will accompany the exhibition.

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