Merrimack Repertory Theatre Blog

August 29, 2012, 10:30 am
Filed under: Merrimack Repertory Theatre

Kerouac Literary Festival Celebrates Writer’s Legacy, Contemporary Authors

Staging of Beat Icon’s Only Full-Length Play is Centerpiece of October Event


LOWELL, Mass. – When Merrimack Repertory Theatre and the University of Massachusetts Lowell bring Jack Kerouac’s only full-length play to the stage for the first time in October, the premiere will be just one of many events focused on the legacy of the Beat Generation icon.


The Jack Kerouac Literary Festival includes not only eight performances of the play, aptly named “Beat Generation,” but also many free programs that draw on Kerouac’s works and his history in his hometown of Lowell, as well as the next generation of writers inspired by his work. Both the literary festival and “Beat Generation” open Wednesday, Oct. 10 and run through Sunday, Oct. 14.


For those who attend opening night at the newly renovated theater, the festival offers special events before and after the play that celebrate both Kerouac and present-day authors who, like the Beat icon, are taking writing in new directions. On Wednesday, Oct. 10, singer-songwriter Tanya Donelly of Throwing Muses, The Breeders and Belly and writer Rick Moody (“The Ice Storm” and “On Celestial Music and Other Adventures in Listening”) will share their experiments with the line between making music and writing prose at a 3:30 p.m. event on the UMass Lowell campus. On Thursday, Oct. 11, Anne Waldman, co-founder of the Jack Kerouac writing school at Naropa University and an activist-artist known for the power of her words, will perform her dynamic poetry for audiences at a special event for the public at UMass Lowell at 3:30 p.m. Later that evening, for those who have already seen “Beat Generation,” there will be an “Off the Road” tour of pubs visited by Kerouac in his days in Lowell and performances by local musicians and poets who are among his greatest fans.


“Writing and Music” is the theme of the festival and programs include a variety of events that meld the genres, including performances by renowned Kerouac contemporary David Amram, a multitalented composer and conductor who has worked in jazz, Broadway, classical music, opera and more, scoring films including “Splendor in the Grass” and “The Manchurian Candidate.” Amram is the author of books including the memoir, “Offbeat: Collaborating with Kerouac.” He will perform, read his works and present film screenings throughout the day on Saturday, Oct. 14 at venues throughout Lowell.


Other events include:

  • Author Jay Atkinson, who retraced Kerouac’s legendary “On the Road” journey and chronicled it in “Paradise Road,” will talk about Kerouac’s days as an athlete, which began on Lowell High’s football field and took him to Columbia University on a scholarship. Atkinson will speak at the Mogan Cultural Center in Lowell at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 13.

  • A previously unpublished poem by Kerouac and the next generation of writers inspired by him are featured in “Young Angel Midnight: An Emerging Generation in Lowell,” the award-winning anthology, which will be celebrated with a reception and book-signing for the public on Tuesday, Oct. 9 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the historic Allen House on the UMass Lowell campus.


The literary festival also features guided tours by foot and by bus of notable Kerouac sites, open mic nights and programs like “Writers on the Road: Charles Dickens and Jack Kerouac,” a program that brings together the Kerouac festival and “Dickens in Lowell,” North America’s largest celebration of Charles Dickens’ 200th birthday. Dickens visited Lowell during his tour of America and wrote about his positive experiences in the city. For a full schedule of festival events, visit All events are free unless otherwise specified.


The festival is presented by UMass Lowell, Lowell Celebrates Kerouac!, the Cultural Organization of Lowell and other community partners. The play’s premiere is being presented in Lowell with the support and collaboration of Kerouac Literary Estate representative John Sampas.


“Beat Generation” is being performed as a staged reading, allowing theatergoers to focus on the raw words of Kerouac’s only full-length play, a tale of friendship and karma over the course of one eventful day of the lives of characters based on the author and his counterculture friends including Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg.


Tickets for “Beat Generation” start at $40 and can be purchased at or by calling the MRT box office at 978-654-4678. This once-in-a-lifetime premiere of Kerouac’s work will be held in MRT’s intimate, newly renovated 279-seat theater. “Beat Generation” is sponsored by UMass Lowell with additional support from 92.5 The River.



Wednesday, Oct. 10 at 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, Oct. 11 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 12 at 8 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 13 at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Sunday, Oct. 14 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.



Born Jean-Louis Kerouac in 1922, Kerouac is Lowell’s most famous native son. He was a football star at Lowell High School and was awarded a scholarship to Columbia University. However, Kerouac was unhappy in college and dropped out of school after his father lost his printing business. During World War II, he joined the Merchant Marine and became friends with Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs. Kerouac wrote his first novel, “The Town and the City,” about his struggle to balance the expectations of his family with his unconventional life, which was published in 1950 with Ginsberg’s help. Kerouac took several cross-country trips with Cassady during this time, which became the basis for his most famous work, “On The Road.The manuscript – presented to his editor on a single, unbroken roll of paper, the scroll that was later exhibited to record crowds in Lowell – was initially rejected and not published until 1957. In the years in between, Kerouac followed Ginsberg and Cassady to San Francisco and the term “Beat Generation” – coined by Kerouac – gained popularity. When Kerouac finally broke through with the release of “On The Road, he was faced with challenges presented by the fame that followed as he tried to live up to the image portrayed in his novels. He also faced criticism from the literary establishment for being part of what was considered a fad. He would go on to publish additional novels, many of which used settings based on Lowell – including “Doctor Sax,” “The Subterraneans,” “The Dharma Bums” and his final great work, “Big Sur.” He settled in Florida with his wife, Stella Sampas, and his mother, where he died in 1969 at age 47. He was buried in Lowell.


Even after his death, Kerouac’s popularity continues. “On The Road” has remained widely read and a new film adaptation of the novel starring Garrett Hedlund and Kristen Stewart premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and will be screened at the Toronto Film Festival. Kerouac was named one of the most important figures of the 20th century by LIFE Magazine and The Times of London. Interest in Kerouac has grown with the publication of his letters, poetry, spiritual writings, early novels and more from his remarkable literary archive. He has been cited as an influence by countless writers and musicians, including The Doors. A 2005 forum in New York featured a reading of a passage from “Beat Generation” by actor Ethan Hawke, but to date, the play has yet to be staged in its entirety.



UMass Lowell is a comprehensive, national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its more than 15,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health and environment, humanities, management, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be ready for work, for life and for all the world offers.


Founded in 1979 by a group of committed civic leaders, Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s mission is “to advance the cause of human understanding by creating theatrical productions at the highest level of artistic excellence and making them affordable to the broadest possible community.” Merrimack Rep’s unique artistic vision is shaped by a passion for excellence and a profound commitment to its community. It strives to enhance the community’s quality of life while contributing to its economic strength, measuring success by the depth of the company’s artistic and social contribution to the region.


A member of the League of Resident Theatres (LORT), MRT has received hundreds of awards and accolades, including recognition in American Theatre Magazine, The Boston Globe, Boston Magazine and The New York Times for artistic excellence and its contribution to the community. MRT’s history comprises more than 210 productions including 16 world premieres and 34 regional premieres, contributing significantly to the canon of the American theater and bringing new plays to audiences throughout New England. Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s 2012-2013 season is sponsored by LowellBank. Merrimack Repertory Theatre is funded in part by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. For details on MRT’s season information, show times, tickets, directions or to request a brochure, visit or call 978-654-4MRT (4678).


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