The British Library exhibits Jack Kerouac’s 120-foot long On the Road manuscript scroll in London for the first time

  • 4 October to 27 December 2012

The British Library is delighted to host Jack Kerouac’s 120-foot manuscript scroll of On the Road in London for the first time as part of a new exhibition opening tomorrow. On the Road: Jack Kerouac’s Manuscript Scroll explores the development of the novel that defined the Beat Generation and has become a classic of post-war American literature. The exhibition relaunches the Library’s Folio Society Gallery, which has been home to British Library exhibitions including The Worlds of Mervyn Peake and A Hankering after Ghosts: Charles Dickens and the Supernatural.

Written over a period of three weeks in April 1951 in manic bursts of what Allen Ginsberg referred to as ‘spontaneous bop prosody’, Jack Kerouac typed the manuscript of On the Road onto rolls of architects’ paper, having taped it together into a long scroll. This way, Kerouac would not have to replace paper at the end of each page or interrupt his creative flow. The product was a 120-foot long manuscript, which has toured states around the US and parts of Europe since 2004.

The Library has made a specially constructed display case to exhibit the scroll, which will show the first 50 feet of the story. There are clear differences between the manuscript and the published book – Kerouac uses the real names of his friends, rather than their character names, for instance, Allen Ginsberg is Allen Ginsberg, rather than Carlo Marx.

The scroll will be accompanied by first editions of other Beat classics, such as The Naked Lunch, from the British Library’s collections of American literature, as well as rare sound recordings of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs and other leading figures of the Beat Generation from the Library’s Sound Archive. These include a rarely-heard private recording of Neal Cassady, Kerouac’s model for the character Dean Moriarty, reading from Proust. The recording was originally made on paper recording tape on an Ekotape machine at the Cassadys’ home in San Jose in 1952. The paper tape is long-lost, but the tape cassette copy was donated to the Library by Carolyn Cassady, Neal’s former wife, in 2007.

Matthew Shaw, curator of the British Library's US collections, says: “We are really pleased to welcome Jack Kerouac’s famous 120-foot long scroll to London for the first time. The Library has tailor-made a display case for the manuscript, which give visitors the chance to see the scroll stretching out before them and to take their own reading journey along it. The scroll will be contextualised by a fascinating mix of Beat and jazz recordings drawn from the Library's extensive sound collections, along with a selection of important items from our wonderful collection of American materials.”

The Library receives the On the Road scroll just before Walter Salles’ film adaptation of the novel is released in cinemas on 12 October. A special preview of the film will be held in the Library’s conference centre. In addition, the Library will host a talk exploring Kerouac’s ‘great year of enlightenment’, 1951, by Beat scholar and editor of On the Road: The Original Scroll, Howard Cunnell, plus a performance by the world-renowned poet Amiri Baraka, formerly known as LeRoi Jones.

Pioneering US composer and Kerouac collaborator, David Amram, will launch the exhibition and will perform with a jazz trio at the British Library.

Notes to Editors

This manuscript is on loan from the collection of James S. Irsay

All contents are © Estate of Anthony G. Sampatacacus and the Estate of Jan Kerouac.

On the Road: Jack Kerouac’s Manuscript Scroll runs from 4 October to 27 December 2012 in the British Library’s Folio Society Gallery and is FREE.

Further information about British Library exhibitions and events can be found at

To book tickets for events please visit, call 01937 546546 (Mon - Fri, 09.00 - 17.00) or buy tickets in person at the British Library.

With thanks to the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library.

The Folio Society was founded in 1947 to create exceptional editions of the world’s greatest books through the highest standards of printing, binding, typography and illustration. Over sixty years on, its aim remains the same - to publish reasonably priced books that will stand the test of time, in handsome, imaginatively designed and beautifully crafted editions. The Folio Society’s edition of On the Road by Jack Kerouac, bound in cloth and illustrated with evocative photographs of Kerouac and the landscapes of 1950s America, is available for £29.95 from or by telephone on 020 7400 4200 or by visiting The Folio Society Bookshop, 44 Eagle Street, London WC1R 4FS.

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