Marathon reading of Kerouacs On the Road
Cultural Organization of Lowell
Olive That & More, 167 Market St., Lowell
Sept. 5, 10 a.m. to approximately 10 p.m.
Before 19-year-old Chantal Brouillard heads west in her trusty Chevy pickup, she will take a detour to Jack Kerouac's hometown to celebrate the author who inspired her cross-country road trip.
Departing from her hometown of Castine, Maine, Brouillard will arrive in Lowell next weekend for the 50th anniversary of the publication of "On the Road." To commemorate the occasion, Brouillard, along with 47 other presenters, will hold a marathon reading of the novel in all its wanderlust glory.
"It will be great meeting people who have a passion for Kerouac's writing and what he said," Brouillard said. "I'm excited to see how the book moved other people."
A host of the region's finest artists, musicians, academics, and professionals, as well as younger fans such as Brouillard, will come together for a 12-hour reading at local delicatessen Olive That & More, which will serve sandwiches, baked goods, beer, and wine. Some notables will include Lloyd Schwartz, poet, University of Massachusetts at Boston professor, Pulitzer Prize winner, Boston Phoenix classical editor, and National Public Radio contributor; and Sharon Shaloo, executive director of Massachusetts Center for the Book.
"On the Road" has some incredible rhythms, and to have all these different voices brought together in one room and hear aloud the spirit of Kerouac will be really exciting," said LZ Nunn, director of the Cultural Organization of Lowell. "Audiences who have read Kerouac will get to experience him in a whole new way. And for those who couldn't get into his writing, this reading allows for a very different interaction with the prose."
Brouillard was unaware of the anniversary celebration until by chance Nunn checked in to her family's bed and breakfast, the Castine Harbor Lodge. Nunn, who was on holiday with her husband, frequented the inn's restaurant where Brouillard was working. The two became fast friends after Nunn happened upon Brouillard curled up with a hot chocolate and a copy of Kerouac's "Visions of Gerard."
"Her eyes just lit up and she said, 'Did I not tell you what I do?' " said Brouillard. "It was the perfect coincidence."
As the two got to talking, Nunn learned that Brouillard was not a run-of-the-mill Kerouac fan. Like many of the road's scholars before her, Brouillard took a year off after graduating from high school to set out on her first cross-country road trip.
" 'On the Road' speaks to young people and captures the spirit of an age. It was fascinating to talk with Chantal, who really represents why the novel remains pressing and relevant today," said Nunn.
Along with her literary traveling companion of choice, "On the Road," Brouillard weaved her way from New England through New York, Indiana, Ohio, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon, and Arizona, where she camped under the moon at the Grand Canyon. Eventually Brouillard landed in California before heading back East.
"It really was Kerouac that drove me to go out and wander the country," Brouillard said.
Brouillard plans to navigate her way through Kerouac's entire body of work in an effort to better understand the source of his inspiration.
"I'm really interested in what happened in Kerouac's life that gave him the passion and the drive to do what he did."
Part of that effort will include visiting the original scroll on which Kerouac wrote "On the Road" in a dizzying three-week period. The scroll has returned home for a 50th anniversary exhibition at the Boott Cotton Mills Museum at Lowell National Historical Park and will be on display through Oct. 14.
Following the anniversary reading, Brouillard will embark on her second American odyssey before attending The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., where she plans to study either an anthropology- or sociology-related field.
"I really feel life events and what happens to people shape who they are and how they interpret the world. Life and interactions with people are so unique and can lead to anything," she said. "I am so lucky to have met LZ and be a part of what's going on in Lowell."