Peter Balakian approaching the Kerouac house

Balakian Reads at Historic Jack Kerouac House

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PETERSBURG, Fla. — Pulitzer Prize winning poet Peter Balakian gave a reading on March 24 at the Jack Kerouac House in St. Petersburg, Florida. The legendary novelist who wrote On the Road, Dharma Bums, and Desolation Angels was, along with Allen Ginsberg, the founder of the Beat Movement, had purchased the house in 1967 and was living there with his mother Gabrielle and third wife Stella Sampas when he died in 1969 at the age of 47.

Peter Balakian in front of the Kerouac kitchen grate

Balakian was hosted by the new owners of the house, Ken and Gina Birchenal, and the director of a new reading series, poet Larry Jaffe. While much of the house was intact, the Burchenals have beautifully restored the house to its original form and have turned it into a cultural center where visitors and literary events are now part of its revival.

Peter Balakian reading at Jack Kerouac’s house

To a packed room Balakian read his poems as well as an excerpt from a prose work about his conversations about Kerouac with his aunt Nona, then an editor at the New York Times Book Review. Balakian remarked that “it was special to be in that space where Kerouac lived and worked. The house is a simple ranch and very mid-century modern, which made me feel the period of the sixties in which I grew up.”

Peter Balakian signing books at the Kerouac house

Balakian added that “Kerouac was a great admirer of [William] Saroyan and even notes him in On the Road.”  After the reading, Balakian signed books and slept overnight in the house, taking in the vibes.

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