Friday, January 5, 2007

Chasing Cool

The first friend I made in Denver, Steve, has a dog named Japhy. We met at a picnic hosted by our partners' work, and after everyone had eaten and the rockies were climbing toward the sun, someone produced an Ultrastar1 and we wound up in the grass throwing long forehands to one another. When he called for his dog, a single "Japhy!" I answered "the greatest Dharma bum of them all" across to him. Steve seemed surprised that I knew the source of his dog's name and said that people always asked him about it.

After tomorrow, Denver may not need to ask Steve that question again.

On January 6, 2007, the scroll manuscript of Jack Kerouac's On the Road will go on display at the Central Branch of the Denver Public Library, and Denver's finest publications—from the glossy 5280 magazine to the hip Westword, Denver's answer to the Village Voice—plan to run articles about it. A perennially newsworthy author, Kerouac will once again steal the limelight during this, the 50th Anniversary year of On the Road's publication.

A huge tourist destination in its own right, Denver will this weekend experience the influx of a roving band of academics and students, all part of Dr. Audrey Sprenger and David Amram's course "Jack Kerouac Wrote Here: Criss-Crossing America Chasing Cool," offered in conjunction with SUNY-Potsdam. The course is designed to introduce Kerouac's literature in terrains where it takes place: the San Francisco of The Dharma Bums2, the Denver of On the Road, the New York City of The Town and The City3, the Lowell of the oeuvre, as much a sociological study as a literary one.

Dr. Sprenger asked me to participate, so when the cohort arrives—scheduled on a Friday morning flight from San Francisco, while Denver is again beset by heavy snowfall and the cattle are starving, ranchers cut off from their herds by four feet of snow and eight-foot drifts—I will join them for a week-and-a-half train trip east and through history and fiction.

Along the way we'll converse with musicians, painters, writers, literary agents, and Kerouac's friends and loves, and we'll read On the Road, the Dharma Bums, and a selection of his poetry.

For daily updates, please visit the Lowell Sun, Kerouac's hometown newspaper, and this blog, which I will attempt to update daily as we move east, toward "the great and final city of America" (Road).

1Flying disc manufactured by Discraft, the official disc of the Ultimate Players Association.

2& The Subterraneans & Visions of Cody &....

3& Vanity of Duluoz &....

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