The Palace of the Governor’s Museum in Santa Fe recently held the grand opening of the “Jack Kerouac and the Writer’s Life” exhibition. The original On the Road manuscript, said to be Kerouac’s defining novel of the Beat Generation is one of the many literary treasures on display. In its 120-ft. glory, the scroll was typed on a series of 12-ft. rolls of tracing paper that were taped together. He preferred this method to feeding page after page into his typewriter, which would have interrupted his muse.
Opening night at the Palace brought over 800 viewers—more than doubling any previous opening the museum has ever seen. An indication that ‘tis the right time for another stirring of the counter-cultural stewpot? Whatever the reason, it’s a wonderful, and extremely important, exhibition.
Though Kerouac is highlighted throughout, the Palace was very careful to give other figures from the Beat Generation a chance to shine. Poets like Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Philip Whalen, Diane di Prima and many others are given their literary kudos, being recognized as part of the group of writers, artists and musicians who were integral to the post-WWII period of social upheaval now known as the Beat Generation.
The exhibit is quite comprehensive—filled with biographical information about Kerouac, maps and books, tracking his physical and literary journeys. There is also an abundance of books, pictures and poems by Kerouac and others, a video clip of Kerouac, and sound vignettes of voices familiar to the era. The Palace did an amazing job of putting the scroll, and Kerouac, into historical context. Tom Leech, the curator of the exhibition wanted to emphasize, as he puts it, the “…impact one book has had on culture.”
Though Kerouac never lived here, he, and other writers of his ilk, have certainly left their literary footprint in the southwest, particularly New Mexico. Leech notes that writers like Robert Creeley, Jack Loeffler and John Brandi, all of whom are integral to New Mexico’s countercultural scene “ended up here.” He says that even if you weren’t around to experience the Beat scene, your parents likely were “so everyone has first or secondhand knowledge of this era.”
I won’t divulge my favorite part of the exhibit. I’ll just say that you, too, can record your memoirs, anonymously, for the world (or at least other museum goers) to see. But you better have an appreciation for less recent technology, and not be afraid to speak your mind and dirty your fingers.
Join the Palace for one of their Kerouac Writers Series presentations. This Sunday at 2:00, José de la Isla, writer and syndicated columnist will discuss his research on the Beat Generation in 1950s Mexico City. Other writers and poets who will give talks include Joanne Kyger and Michael McClure on May 10th, and Pulitzer Prize-winner Gary Snyder on May 23rd.
The exhibition runs through May 28th, and is definitely worth the price of admission. Museum rates and hours vary, so call them at (505) 476-1140 or check out their website at www.palaceofthegovernors.org for more information.