Kerouac’s Scroll On the Road to New York


Published: October 25, 2007

Jack Kerouac’s 1957 novel, “On The Road”, documents his experiences bouncing around America in explosive, jazz-inspired prose that embodies the wild spirit of the Beat Generation. Composed over a three-week period in the early 1950s, “On The Road” chronicles the writer’s journeys with roustabout Neal Cassady between 1947 and 1950.  To save time, Kerouac fed his typewriter a 120-foot scroll of paper, on which he typed his most famous novel.  In honor of the 50th anniversary of the publication of “On the Road”, the famous scroll on which Kerouac composed his masterpiece will come to the New York Public Library, where it will be on display from Nov. 9 through Feb. 22, 2008.  The library will also feature an exhibit, “Beatific Soul”, honoring Kerouac and his writing through March 16, 2008.

While Kerouac was known for his intense all-night writing sessions of unedited, spontaneous prose, it is often overlooked that Kerouac was a compulsive self-editor.  Though it was composed over three wild weeks on the famous scroll, “On the Road” languished for several years as Kerouac edited draft after draft in order to refine his creative eruption of storytelling.  Demands of editors and agents pared the novel down to a manageable size, although a slightly-edited version of the original scroll is available via Viking Press.

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay purchased the original scroll for $2.4 million at auction in 2001.  After being displayed at the Indiana University Library, the manuscript has been on a four-year tour of 13 libraries and museums across the country.

Kerouac was a voracious writer, publishing more than a dozen novels that fictionalize his life on the road, including “Desolation Angels”, “Big Sur”, and “The Dharma Bums”.  His unique blend of personal reflection and energetic documentation has influenced countless writers.  He has been heralded as a counter-culture hero since his death due to an abdominal hemorrhage—caused by years of heavy drinking—at the age of 47 in 1969.