History of Project
THE DISCOVERY BY BOB KEALING
The Kerouac Project began with a chance discovery by Bob Kealing, a reporter with the Orlando area NBC affiliate and free lance writer. In 1996 he learned that Jack Kerouac had been living in a c. 1920 Orlando cottage when his classic work ON THE ROAD was published to worldwide acclaim in 1957 and where he actually typed the original manuscript of his sequel, DHARMA BUMS. However, none of Kerouac’s biographers had even mentioned this historic house, and neither Orlando nor the State of Florida had taken any steps to preserve it.
The house was merely part of the lore of College Park, a cozy northwest Orlando neighborhood. But, very few people knew where it was, and nobody knew of its historical significance. Kealing called Kerouac’s brother-in-law and estate executor John Sampas, who told him the exact address; 1418 & 1/2 Clouser Avenue. It turned out that Kerouac and his mother shared this home, during the time Kerouac evolved from anonymous writer, to the foremost voice of the Beat Generation. He also wrote or worked on numerous pieces from the time he moved in (July of 1957), until he continued on his peripatetic journey in the Spring of 1958. Therein lies the home’s historical value on a local and national level.
MARTY & JAN CUMMINS COME UP WITH THE IDEA
In March of 1997, Kealing wrote a four thousand word article on his “discovery” for the Orlando Sentinel. After reading Kealing’s article, College Park bookshop owners and entrepreneurs Marty Cummins and Jan Cummins, contacted Kealing with an idea for a non-profit corporation, buy the home, refurbish it, and establish it as a haven for up-and-coming writers. Not only would it be a unique tribute to Kerouac, it would establish Orlando on the international literary map.
THE FIRST BENEFACTORS
So, within a few short weeks, the Kerouac Project was formed. Now the hard work began. The house (which was likely to be demolished) had to be purchased. Fortunately Grace & Fred Hagedorn, Summer Rodman and Gale Petronis came forward to donate $10,000 for the down payment, and through several weeks of tense negotiations, the Project succeeded in putting the house under contract with the help of local realtor Kathy Lightcap.
JEFFREY COLE TO THE RESCUE
But, there was a problem. The Kerouac Project needed more than $100,000 to close the purchase, but didn’t have the money. The Project was about to end before it began. Fortunately, USA Today ran a brief article about the undertaking, and Jeffrey Cole, Chairman and President of Cole National read it while flying from New York to Cleveland on business. It turns out that Jeffrey was a huge fan of Kerouac as a youth in Cleveland and read ON THE ROAD the first week it appeared in bookstores. This interest continued when he was an undergraduate at Harvard and an editor of the “Harvard Lampoon”. He often spent weekends in New York at the jazz clubs and bars where he hoped he might find Jack.
So, Jeffrey called Marty Cummins and asked what he could do to help. Marty told him how much was needed to close the deal, and, remarkably Jeffrey sent the money. The Kerouac Project was able to purchase the property.
THE KICK-OFF EVENT WITH DAVID AMRAM
Jeffrey Cole was then joined by the entire Kerouac Project Board and David Amram, Kerouac’s dear friend and musical collaborator for a kick off party and our first “Jazz Poetry Reading” at Marty & Jan Cummins’ Chapters Cafe and Bookshop; the Project hit the ground running and has never looked back. The evening featured David Amram’s revival of the famous ?jazz poetry readings” begun by David and Jack in the 1950s, and memorialized so brilliantly by Steve Allen and Jack Kerouac on national TV.
Bob Kealing and Jeffrey Cole played the roles of Jack Kerouac, reading from ON THE ROAD. It was an historic, memorable evening that set the tone for all future Kerouac Project events. Jeffrey was presented with a welcome letter from the Mayor of Orlando, surprised with a gift from John Sampas, Executor of the Kerouac Estate (in gratitude for Jeffrey’s timely donation that saved the Kerouac House from likely demolition) and feted with a welcome cake provided by Publix Supermarket of College Park.
David Amram’s appearance at that event, combined with an earlier visit and innumerable visits since, gave us the spiritual connection and critical advice that encouraged us to stay independent and true to Jack Kerouac’s legacy and, particularly, his “angel side”.
Since that evening, the house has been a destination for people to see the place where Kerouac spent perhaps his most intensely productive months. The list of visitors has included the legendary Steve Allen (more on this cultural giant in our “Benefactors” section), of course, David Amram, San Francisco’s poet laureate and owner of City Lights Bookshop, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, historian Douglas Brinkley and noted actor and author, Michael York, all of whom serve on our Boards. We were also delighted that Carolyn Cassady, the widow of Kerouac’s traveling partner Neal Cassady, traveled all the way from England to visit the Kerouac House and spend time with us, so we could learn first hand what it was like to be at the birth of the Beat Movement. An evening spent with Carolyn, David and Ron Lowe (Kerouac’s buddy from his final years in St. Petersburg) was an irreplaceable time with those who knew Jack best in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.
Within 5 years of its founding, due to Jeffrey Cole’s generosity, a grant from the State of Florida and 3 consecutive years of grants from the Darden Restaurant Foundation we have:
- 1.purchased the house, saving it from demolition
- 2.restored it
- 3.paid off all debt
- 4.and, through the prospective sale of a second house on the property, will soon endow the maintenance of the house
The Project has been celebrated in USA TODAY, THE LA TIMES, THE BOSTON GLOBE, CNN, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO and other media from around the world.
A BOOK, A MOVIE, AN INSTITUTE AND A PRESS
In 2002 Bob Kealing published his book KEROUAC IN FLORIDA; WHERE THE ROAD ENDS which chronicles Jack’s times in the sunshine state, and a PBS documentary by Les Anderson is currently in production. Also, the Kerouac Project is exploring the creation of a KEROUAC PROJECT INSTITUTE OF CULTURE with Valencia Community College in order to mentor writers from around the world, discover and showcase local talent, plus uncover and celebrate Florida’s cultural history. Recently, two of our Board members, Summer Rodman and Brad Kuhn, have begun an independent publishing imprint, Shady Lane Publishing, which will be publishing the Kerouac Writers in Residence works, plus other unique books in coming years.
As you can see from our history Bob Kealing and Marty Cummins were, along with Jeffrey Cole, Grace and Fred Hagedorn, Summer Rodman and Gale Petronis the truly indispensable individuals, without whom the Project simply would not exist. Bob’s tireless work in uncovering lost cultural history (which now includes a soon-to-be-published book on Tupperware founders, and a recently published article on Orlando as an incubator of some of the top musicians of the latter 20th Century) has added much to Central Florida’s cultural heritage. Bob also created the all-important link to John Sampas, without whose cooperation the Project also could not exist, and to David Amram, who brought the inspiration and the international contacts that provided almost all of our Honorary Board.
Dr. Bruce Gordy provided key financial support when it was most needed (several times) and Rick Walsh of the Darden Restaurant Companies was our advocate arranging grants to the Project. Marty Cummins and his wife Jan Cummins, provided the initial and on-going business organization and fund-raising structure that was so critical from day one. Indeed, it was Jan’s willingness to provide 90% of the management at the family cafe-bookshop for over 7 years that allowed Marty to spend sometimes 70 hours a week on “things Kerouac”.
Please visit our other sections to learn more about our BENEFACTORS, our WISH LIST and our WRITERS IN RESIDENCE including our very first writer, Erin Styers. And be sure to take a look at the OFFICIAL TOUR video conducted by our co-founder Bob Kealing, and Jeffrey Cole.