On a cold spring evening, a cluster of hipsters, aging hippies, writers, and professors convenes at 680 Park Avenue, scaling the spiral staircase that Michelle Pfeiffer rather more elegantly ascended in the movie version of The Age of Innocence. The century-old mansion once housed the Soviet Mission to the United Nations; today it is the headquarters of the Americas Society, a non-profit body created with Rockefeller money, and dedicated to fostering cultural and political ties between the US and its neighbours in the western hemisphere. Perched on chairs below the ballroom’s glittering chandeliers, the audience listens as Daniel Shapiro, a New York poet and translator who serves as the society’s director of literature, introduces a blue-chip panel speaking on the topic of Jack Kerouac: An Unlikely Franco-American Writer. Franco-American? Bien sûr. Kerouac’s given name wasn’t Jack; it was Jean-Louis. His mother tongue wasn’t English; it was French. He was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, the son of immigrants from Quebec; on his mother’s side, he was related to René Lévesque. Indeed, tonight’s event is co-sponsored by the Association internationale des études québécoises and the Quebec government’s office in New York.
more from Mark Abley at The Walrus here.