By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online.
By SUZANNE DION
LOWELL Maybe you've seen the big schoolbus tooling around town.
It'd be hard to miss, and it's an icon to politics and civics junkies, with the words "C-SPAN" and "American Writers" on the side.
The bus is on the road in Lowell for C-SPAN'S celebration of Jack Kerouac in the latest installment of its series, American Writers II: The 20th Century. The Kerouac segment kicks off today from 3-5 p.m. with a live broadcast from Kerouac Park on Bridge Street.
"It's a big media hit for Lowell," says local writer Paul Marion, who'll figure prominently in C-SPAN's look at Kerouac, his writings and his place in American cultural history.
He already has participated in two events that have been taped and will air on C-SPAN at various times this week, as cable's public service network follows through with the Kerouac theme.
First was a panel discussion at Lowell High School on Thursday on the school's role, and the city's, in Kerouac's writing. Marion, who has edited collections of Kerouac's works for Viking/Penguin, is among the panelists, as are John Suiter, author of author of Poets on the Peaks: Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen and Jack Kerouac in North Cascades, local writer Margaret Smith and Lawrence Carradini, president of the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! festival committee. Reading from their works are Lowell High students who won last year's writing competition at the Kerouac! fest.
And yesterday, you might have seen Marion leading a walking tour of downtown Lowell that began at Kerouac Park and ended at Barnes & Noble on Merrimack Street.
Marion, assistant director of community relations at UMass Lowell, is one of the participants in today's live broadcast, along with Kerouac's brother-in-law, John Sampas, and musician David Amram. The program's co-host is historian Douglas Brinkley, director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans, who's at work on a book about Kerouac.
Sorry, though. The avuncular, deadpan Brian Lamb Booknotes host and C-SPAN founder won't be here. C-SPAN's Bruce Collins is the moderator of today's program.
Marion says the best place to see the broadcast may well be on TV, from the comfort of an easy chair. Participants are being miked for the broadcast only. "You could stand on the sidewalk and watch," he explains, "but you wouldn't hear anything. There are no loudspeakers. It's not a great spectator experience."
And in case you miss it today, you might be able to see it during the week when C-SPAN and C-SPAN II aren't broadcasting live sessions of Congress. There's a scheduled re-broadcast on Friday at 8 p.m.
Marion got an education in the ways of television as he watched the C-SPAN troupe in operation. He was with the crew on Friday as they blocked out Kerouac Park considering where to place equipment and deciding not to build a stage, but to broadcast directly from the plaza.
"It's a big crowd of people, 15," he marvels. "I expected maybe three to five."
He's impressed with the way the American Writers series looks at authors not primarily as literary figures, but in the context of their culture and times. "That's how they include writers like (war correspondent) Ernie Pyle and (political columnist) Walter Lippmann," he notes.
And that's how the series came to Jack Kerouac, "because he's part of the second half of the 20th century and his books speak to social conditions, post-World War II."
History is likely to be the focus of his own comments. "You can't understand the Beat writers without understanding World War II," he says. "They came through that ordeal and went into a questioning mode. The tragedy of the war affected many of these people and it led to a period of re-evaluation."
Kerouac and his fellow beats "asked the big questions," Marion says, starting off with "why are we here?"
Marion figures the writer himself would be the most impressed by the C-SPAN treatment.
"If Jack Kerouac could have seen this big cross-country bus with the words 'American Writers' on the side, pulling up to his old high school, and known that he was being included with the likes of Hemingway, Steinbeck and Fitzgerald well, the guy couldn't have asked for more," Marion says.
"For him, there was this drive to be recognized as an American author to be included in that literary pantheon is everything he could have hoped for."
For more information on broadcast times and the series, visit the Web sites at www.americanwriters.org or www.cspan.org