It will take me some time to process the multitude of impressions and facts of this past weekend’s Kerouac Festival, but I want to share some initial observations:
1) We accomplished the goal of drawing a larger and more varied literary audience to the city with a broader menu of choices regarding authors and activities.
2) The media response was extraordinary. After the national and worldwide attention in 1988, when we dedicated the Kerouac Commemorative, and the coast-to-coast and international reporting about Kerouac’s legendary scroll manuscript coming to Lowell during the 50th anniversary of “On the Road” in 2007, this year’s festival ranks third in media coverage. This was a direct by-product of expanding the event and inviting several well-known authors, building on the core of authentic Kerouac activities that you can only find in Lowell.
3) UMass Lowell students, enthusiastic about the programs and encouraged by the faculty, attended campus-based events in large numbers, but were not as strong a presence downtown. We have work to do in developing the student downtown audience.
4) People bought books. Staff from the UML Barnes and Noble bookstores downtown and on campus told me they sold lots of books at the various events, several of which included time for meeting authors and book-signing.
5) Young people participated. I mentioned the University students. I also met students from Middlesex. I heard that more than 30 high-school students read or performed their work in front of a packed theater at the Freshman Academy with the Headmaster and English Dept. chair in the room. Saturday night at the 25th anniversary party for Lowell Celebrates Kerouac!, Inc., three spoken-word artists from the group called Free Verse (associated with the Revolving Museum) made a deep impression on the mostly older crowd of more than 100 people at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center. The new generation took part, a good sign for the future of the festival.
6) The substance about Kerouac was as good as I’ve ever heard and seen it at the festivals. Russell Banks saying he had come to Lowell to claim Kerouac as a literary father, Sandra Lim talking about the beautiful lyricism in Kerouac’s writing, Tom Perrotta saying Kerouac was a model for him when he started out, Dennis McNally giving two tour-de-force lectures on Kerouac and the American bohemian tradition, Roger Brunelle bringing back the 2.5 hour guided bus tour of Kerouac sites, Antje Duvekot describing how she drove across country with a Kerouac quote painted on her car—there was plenty of serious and happy talk about Kerouac even as the festival took audiences down new and different literary roads.