When Jack Kerouac began the marathon writing session that produced “On the Road,” he connected twelve-foot-long hunks of paper end to end so he could feed a continuous stream of paper into his typewriter. What emerged was one of the great works of the countercultural Beat Generation of the 1950s. This October, the original manuscript comes to Columbia College’s Book and Paper Arts Center, where it will serve as the centerpiece of two months of programming. “And the Beats Go On” will include film screenings, performances, exhibitions and a symposium October 10-11 on the Beat Generation.
The symposium’s main organizer is Tony Trigilio, a professor in Columbia’s English Department and an executive board member of the Beat Studies Association, an international scholarly organization. “We wanted to have a conference for scholars who work in the field,” he explains. “That was right when I found out that the Kerouac scroll was going to be here at Columbia.” For many reasons, now seems like a perfect time to look back at the Beats. In the past ten years, according to Trigilio, “There’s been a convergence of new ideas on the Beats, new ways of looking at the Beats.” The stereotype of the Beat writer, what Trigilio calls “the guy in the beret with the bongo drums,” is being challenged by modern scholars. “I didn’t say the woman in the beret,” Trigilio points out. “For years people just assumed that the Beats were all men.” Now poets like Joanne Kyger and Diane Diprima —both of whom will give readings at the symposium—are getting their due. Panels on diversity will also include questions about race, according to Trigilio: “What was going on in beat communities with writers who were people of color, what were they doing, what were their artistic relationships like?” And of course, one entire panel will be devoted to the book at the center of it all. “‘On the Road’ really was able to marry popularity and experimental writing in a way that you don’t usually get in the arts,” says Trigilio. Perhaps that’s why, fifty years later, we’re still talking about it. (Sam Feldman)
“And the Beat Go On,” October 10-11, Columbia College’s Book and Paper Arts Center