Kerouac manuscript arrives at Rollins

Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac

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When Jean-Louis "Jack" Lebris de Kerouac moved into the small College Park house his mother was renting at 1418 Clouser Ave. in July 1957, he was still a writer in search of a career. His only previous novel, a fairly conventional coming-of-age work, “The Town and the City,” had appeared seven years earlier and had not sold well. Within two months, his second book, “On the Road,” was published to rapturous reviews that established Jack Kerouac as both king of the beats and the voice of his generation.

Inspired by both his new fame and publishers clamoring for his work, Jack sat down in the cozy College Park cottage and wrote “The Dharma Bums” in a frenzy of creativity between Nov. 26 and Dec. 7. Relying on the spontaneous prose and autobiographical material that had made “On the Road” a cultural phenomenon, “The Dharma Bums” solidified Kerouac’s leading position among America’s post-war writers.

After reporter Bob Kealing wrote a story in 1997 about Kerouac’s time in College Park, a group of residents formed the Kerouac Project of Orlando to buy and maintain the house as a home for the Jack Kerouac Writer in Residence program, which brings four writers in each year for periods of up to three months. As part of its ongoing educational mission, the group also purchased the original edited typescript of “The Dharma Bums.” On Dec. 8, the Kerouac Project announced that the manuscript would be housed on permanent display in the Rollins College Olin Library Archives.

In bringing the manuscript to Rollins, Bruce Gordy, president of the Kerouac Project, announced that the document had found an ideal home and should prove “the start of a promising relationship between Kerouac and Rollins.” In thanking him, Phil Deaver, a professor of creative writing and writer in residence, commented that the work offers students and the community “a treasure, a rare look into the blood and sweat that must flow to make a good book.”

Deceptively simple in appearance, the typescript has, in Library Director Jonathan Miller’s words, “at least three layers within it: the text, the editorial comments and Jack’s occasionally ironic responses to those comments.” The college archivist, Wenxian Zhang, added that the work’s new home “will facilitate the study of the work … while ensuring the preservation of the original manuscript.”

In thanking Bruce Gordy, Rollins Vice President and Treasurer Jeff Eisenbarth, the Olin Library staff and longtime Kerouac Board members like Summer Rodman, Jill Jones, a professor of English and president of the Rollins Arts and Science faculty, echoed the hopes of everyone involved that this new relationship between the Kerouac programs and Rollins would both strengthen and add significantly to the cultural diversity of Central Florida.

Socky O’Sullivan is the Kenneth Curry professor of literature at Rollins College and is a leading scholar of Florida Historical literature. He has taught several classes at Rollins that focus on Kerouac’s work, including “Kerouac and The Beats.”