EVENT: In conjunction with the Ransom Center’s exhibition “On the Road with the Beats,” the scroll manuscript of Jack Kerouac’s novel “On the Road” will be displayed at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center.
WHEN: Beginning March 7. Galleries open at 10 a.m. The first 48 feet of the scroll manuscript will be displayed in the galleries through June 1. The scroll will be available to media for filming purposes on Thursday, March 6 at 10 a.m. The scroll will be unfurled at that time.
WHERE: The Harry Ransom Center is on the corner of 21st and Guadalupe streets on The University of Texas at Austin campus. Maps of campus are available online.
BACKGROUND: Jack Kerouac began mulling over the plot, characters and thematic structure of “On the Road” as early as 1948. In April 1951, he decided to compose the book. Kerouac cut up several large pieces of drawing paper into eight strips about the width of a piece of typing paper and of varying lengths. He taped them together to create a single scroll that extended more than 120 feet.
In 20 days, he typed the first complete draft of “On the Road” on this scroll. Kerouac created the scroll so he could write without interruption, unimpeded by the need to load sheets of paper into the typewriter. He had for some time been experimenting with what he later termed “spontaneous prose,” a writing style akin to the sustained improvisations of bebop musicians.
Ideally, Kerouac wished to free himself from revision, though he did make significant changes to “On the Road” after completing the scroll draft. He began revising in late May 1951 and created at least two further complete drafts before the book was finally published in 1957, with additional changes by editors at Viking Press.
As visitors familiar with “On the Road” will recognize, the scroll draft lacks the published novel’s paragraph, chapter and section breaks, and it includes the real names of the book’s “characters.” The names were changed to protect the publisher from libel suits. Kerouac also agreed to remove problematic passages from the novel in the published version to speed its publication, including rough language and passages with homosexual content.
For several decades the scroll was housed at the New York Public Library, though it was owned by Kerouac’s heirs. In 2001, the scroll was purchased at auction by Jim Irsay, owner and CEO of the Indianapolis Colts football team. In 2004 Irsay sent the scroll traveling so that it could be seen by audiences around the country and abroad. It has been to Italy and will travel to England and Ireland. It traveled to Austin from its most recent venue, the New York Public Library, and will travel next to Columbia College in Chicago.
“On the Road with the Beats” traces the travels of Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and their friends across America and the globe. Manuscripts, books, photographs and visual art from the Ransom Center’s collections tell the story of the Beat Generation and the literary and social revolution they inspired. The exhibition runs through Aug. 3.
Within the exhibition is one of the journals Kerouac kept while preparing to write “On the Road,” which, along with the manuscripts, photos and correspondence of Kerouac’s Beat peers, places the manuscript in the context of its creation. Visitors can see the original journal and a page through a complete digital version of the journal in the exhibition.