One evening in the summer of 1965, Kerouac wandered into the St. Pete Times building to introduce himself and ask if he could write some sports columns for the paper. Ben Montgomery, who writes for the Tampa Bay Times now, has a nice bit on his blog about this moment.
An editor at the time, Ben was writing a story on bull-fighting, when Kerouac approached him, asking to write a story. According to the editor, Mike Fowler, Kerouac banged out three great stories while he was struggling to get one paragraph written.
Another article that Kerouac wrote predicted the outcome of some baseball series, complete with stats and player successes. After the season was over, it turns out that every single prediction was wrong.
The St. Petersburg Times had a somewhat uneasy relationship with Kerouac. While there were certainly many journalists in town who would have been very happy to drink with him, after this death, there was a general sense of embarrassment at the circumstances of his death and how St. Petersburg was portrayed. Margo Hammond, who was the former book editor of the Times and started the Times Festival of Reading, has long been a champion of honoring Kerouac’s memory here.
She tried to urge the Times to tie the Festival of Reading officially to Kerouac’s history, but the best she was able to do was persuade them to devote that 1994 edition, where we heard the earlier tape, to him. That year, they featured his daughter, Jan Kerouac; his ex-girlfriend Joyce Johnson, and his agent, Sterling Lord. Francis Ford Coppola had recently purchased the rights to On the Road and a screenwriter was also on the panel. There’s a funny section of the tape where his agent, Sterling Lord, talks about how Kerouac was so overwhelmed at the success of On the Road and the constant clamor for press, interviews, and photos that he had to go find him one day, and he was lying face down in someone’s apartment, unable to get up and deal with his sudden fame. As he’s telling this story, Joyce Johnson pipes in to say “That was my apartment!”.
She maintained a relationship with Kerouac for years after he moved away from New York and has since written two wonderful books about him, by the way.
One of the most heartbreaking parts of these tapes is when you hear an audience member pleading with someone, and Eckerd College was mentioned specifically, to do something to preserve the house, which had only been vacant for 4 years at the time, as opposed to the 30 years it remained vacant until being purchased twice in 2020.
Research provided by Margaret Murray