November 8, 2007 / 7:34 PM / 12 years ago

Kerouac exhibit sheds new light on Beat writer

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The name “Kerouac” typically evokes a sense of hip, cool, rebellion, exploration and of course “Beat,” as in voice of the Beat Generation.

But an exhibit opening on Friday at the New York Public Library reveals some less flattering sides of the writer: mama’s boy, anti-Semite and perhaps misogynist.

“It will shatter a lot of preconceptions,” curator Isaac Gewirtz said of “Beatific Soul: Jack Kerouac On the Road,” which runs through March 16, accompanied by a lecture series and film screenings.

The centerpiece is a scroll on which Kerouac wrote “On the Road,” the iconic work of the counterculture Beat Generation and one that is marking its 50th anniversary.

Some 60 feet, roughly half of the scroll, extends in a glass case around which is mounted the raw material of Kerouac’s life: handwritten notebooks, photographs, diaries, letters, paintings and manuscripts.

There are harmonicas and dice, crutches from a football injury, a brown pair of ankle boots and a partial pack of Beech Nut chewing gum, even a list Kerouac compiled of women he had slept with.

The list of conquests indicates that Kerouac often could not remember the women’s names, instead using geographic labels like “Harlem” or derogatory terms such as “NYU Junkie” and “Mary Filth.”

The illustrated “sports diaries” of his youth give voice to his well-documented athletic prowess, while original paintings attest to one of his lesser known talents. Images of angels, shepherds, a crucifix and Buddha reflect his Roman Catholic identity and 1950s flirtation with Buddhism.

The exhibit also includes a letter from Kerouac’s mother, Gabrielle, with whom the writer lived for most of his adult life, to Allen Ginsberg, demanding that the Beat poet eschew further contact with her son.

Calling Ginsberg and experimental novelist William S. Burroughs “miserable bums,” she wrote, “You are not free to associate with us Christians.”

The exhibit also shows Kerouac hewed closely to his mother’s anti-Semitic ravings, at least in his final days.

“You can’t take his mother out of this,” Gewirtz said. “She subverted virtually every serious relationship he ever had, except the last,” referring to Stella, Kerouac’s wife at the time of his death in 1969 at age 47 following years of heavy drinking.

An interview with fellow bad boy Ken Kesey, author of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” quotes Kerouac as saying: “The Communist is the main enemy — the Jew.”

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