More than 40 years after his death, "On the Road" author Jack Kerouac is still making friends. "Man of Steel" star Michael Shannon and "Sopranos" actor John Ventimiglia will join a host of authors in a sold-out event Sunday in New York City to benefit the Orlando-based Kerouac Project.
"Jack Kerouac: The Florida-New York Connection" will feature music inspired by the influential Beat Generation writer along with readings of his works. Authors from Orlando and New York will read alongside Shannon and Ventimiglia, including Kerouac Project co-founder Summer Rodman and Brooklyn poet Monica Wendel, who stayed at Kerouac's former home in College Park as part of the Kerouac Project's writer-in-residence program.
Event organizer Frank Messina is a poet in his own right and he hopes the night will become an annual affair. A New York resident, Messina first visited the Kerouac House during a book-signing tour in 2008.
"I was drawn to the energy of the house," recalls Messina. "I saw there were good people running it. And they weren't in need of much, but I thought if I could help in any tangible way, that would make me happy."
He recruited Shannon, who stars in the HBO series "Boardwalk Empire," and decided to hold the event at the Cornelia Street Cafe, a small Greenwich Village haunt where Messina holds monthly readings.
The venue is fitting. Just blocks away, Kerouac helped usher in the Beat Generation with some of the first public jazz poetry readings at the Circle in the Square Theatre and Village Vanguard in the late 1950s. Musician David Amram played alongside the author at many of the original readings and will re-create some of those watershed moments on Sunday with a set list that includes "Pull My Daisy," featuring lyrics by Kerouac.
Amram, a benefactor for the Kerouac Project, performed at its launch party in 1998. For him, "The Florida-New York Connection" is a chance to keep the often misunderstood legacy of the "Beats" alive.
"We weren't a bunch of stoned-out ignoramuses whining about America," Amram says. "That's the way it's portayed as a caricature because it's easier to sell something like that. The reality was that we were largely self-educated, but all educated," he says. "But we were never, as they liked to say in the South, 'fancied-up over-educated fools.' We were interested in gaining and sharing the knowledge from all other people who crossed our paths and then incorporating that into our formal work from real-life experiences."
Funds raised from the event will go toward maintenance on the Kerouac House, where the writer lived after "On the Road" was published in 1957. Today, the house is a residency for authors such as Wendel, whose upcoming collection "Pioneer" was completed there. She recalls visitors of all ages showing up unannounced to pay homage to the home's famous former occupant.
"It just made me realize how many people identify with Kerouac," Wendel says. "There's this cliche of the college freshman reading 'On the Road,' but it's really a whole range of people who read Kerouac and identify with him."
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