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“Someone handed me Mexico City Blues (written by Jack Kerouac) in St. Paul in 1959 and it blew my mind. It was the first poetry that spoke my own language.”
Bob Dylan

“If you’re working with words, it’s got to be poetry. I grew up with Kerouac. If he hadn’t wrote On The Road, the Doors would have never existed. (Jim) Morrison read On The Road down in Florida, and I read it in Chicago. That sense of freedom, spirituality, and intellectuality in On The Road — that’s what I wanted in my own work.”
Ray Manzarek, The Doors’ Keyboard player

Though I’ve spent a good deal of my life living in Florida it wasn’t until yesterday that I visited the house Jack Kerouac lived in for a short time back in 1957-58. I was on the tail end  of a week-long stay in the Orlando area before I flew back to Iowa.

Though Kerouac died in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1969 (on top of living in the Orlando area a couple times) most people don’t associate Kerouac with Florida. Probably because he didn’t write about it much—it’s only mentioned in a few letters. He’s more known for being born in Massachusetts, his brief college experience in New York City and, of course, his time on the road. (Heck, he wrote more about Iowa than Florida.)

The Kerouac Project began when reporter Bob Kealing wrote about discovering the house in 1997. Marty and Jan Cummins happened to own a bookstore not far from where the Kerouac house and contacted Kealing about working on preserving the house. Plans were set in motion, but as it is with most visions money was an issue. But after Jeffrey Cole read about the project in USA Today he provided the necessary funding to purchase the property.

Other people and groups would come together to restore the home and launch The Kerouac Project, which includes a writers in residence program. When I drove by the house yesterday to take a few pictures of the outside of the home the current writer in residence, Alicia Holmes, was sitting in the front porch and asked if I’d like to see inside the house. Of course I did.

The house is located at 1418 Clouser in the College Park area just outside downtown Orlando. Though technically he lived in the small porch apartment in the back of the house with his mother. Inside there is a 10×10 room where the 35-year-old little known writer Kerouac (at that time) slept and actually wrote  The Dharma Bums in one of those classic 11 days continual writing sessions he was known for. Though he had written On the Road at this time it had not yet caused the sensation that would eventually catapulted him into fame as writer.

In case you never make it to Orlando here’s a tour I found online.

According to Bob Kealing’ book Kerouac in Florida, back in the early 60s Kerouac bought two lots in the Sanlando Springs area of the Orlando suburb Altamonte Springs with the hopes of starting a “communal retreat.” Those plans never materialized, but if you’ve ever driven from Daytona Beach to Orlando on Interstate 4, you’ve traveled the land once known as “Jack’s Patch,” which is now part of the west bound lane of I-4 just before you reach the 434 exit. Somehow a fitting end for a writer whose best known work was On the Road.

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!'”
Jack Kerouac
On the Road


Scott W. Smith

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