50 years later, readers are On the Road again

The Daily Pennsylvanian
January 26, 2007

Media Credit: Mark Chou
Al Filreis reads a section of On The Road at Kelly Writers House during the 50th anniversary celebration of the book's publication.

Fifty years after the publication of Jack Kerouac's On the Road, students, faculty and area residents gathered together at the Kelly Writers House yesterday for a marathon reading to celebrate the benchmark novel.

Starting at 4 p.m., 48 scheduled guests read for ten minutes each before an audience that filtered in and out throughout the evening - sometimes just a handful of people, and, at other times, swelling out of the room.

"Nobody else has ever done this before with this book," said Erin Gautsche, program coordinator for the Writers House.

Many Penn professors, like Writers House Director Jessica Lowenthal and Kelly professor Al Filreis, were among those who read.

Several musical groups - including Penn Jazz - played to reflect the mood of the book, said Sam Allingham, an assistant coordinator for the Writers House.

Even the food was prepared specifically for the event - each dish was displayed along with a quote about it from On the Road.

The idea for the event was first brought up by the Penn Humanities Forum, which this year has emphasized the theme of travel and the road.

In 1957, writer Jack Kerouac published On the Road, an adventure novel based on his own spontaneous road trips across America.

It was a book that, according to representatives for the Kelly Writers House, inspired the American obsession with "the road" and was a benchmark for the "Beat" generation.

Kerouac's original transcript of the novel was written on a series of rolls that the organizers of the reading mimicked by photocopying an entire copy of the book and taping the sheets together.

"We thought it would be fun," Gautsche said.

Gautsche said she was "very excited" about the event, but added that she just wanted to "make it through the night."

Dan Sheehan, a Penn employee pursuing his B.A. in English, was similarly excited for the event.

"I read this book when I was 13, and I loved it then," he said. "The fact that they're doing this, it's terrific."

"The coolest part is the atmosphere," he added.

Gautsche emphasized, though, that this was only one of many events that occur all year at the Kelly Writers House.

"We're always doing crazy things here," she said.