Why It’s a Tragedy That the UK Jack Kerouac Convention in Rotherham Was Cancelled

It might have been the only weekend in Rotherham when drainpiped hipsters wearing berets would be safe in numbers.
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It might have been the only weekend in Rotherham when drainpiped hipsters wearing berets would be safe in numbers.

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Last week, two all-day events were planned in the South Yorkshire town to celebrate American writer Jack Kerouac – an icon of the Beat Generation. Academics and special guests –including Carolyn Cassady, a prominent figure in the literary classic On the Road – were to be involved in a weekend of presentations, displays and entertainment at New York Stadium, the home of Rotherham United FC. All proceeds would go to charity.

A formal gathering didn’t seem in the spirit of anything the nocturnal, shagging, intoxicated Beats did – but hey, it’s kind of like when anyone wears a Sex Pistols t-shirt for their office dress-down day. I was up for it.

“Thank you to everybody who tried to make the event happen. We met some lovely people,” tweeted the organisers of the UK Jack Kerouac Convention as they announced its cancellation due to poor ticket sales. “Sorry we didn’t make it. You are all appreciated.”

There must be a plethora of similarly ambitious events that have befallen the same fate. A couple of cocky car-boot salesman probably once tried to tap into the market in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. Perhaps a dance troupe once gathered in the West End to hold auditions for a bold new production – Hillsborough: The Musical.

So you’ve got to question the logic of hosting such an artsy event in Rotherham, where things perhaps haven’t regenerated as well as they should have done since the mining days. Rotherham, where the EDL has staged marches. Rotherham, where the Chuckle Brothers are from.

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The organisers must have known this. And yet, why wouldn’t locals be interested in discovering this revered author and learning a little about the life, inspiration and hope immortalised on every page of his novels? We only get one life, so why not take a risk? they must have thought.

I imagine some of the few Rotherham residents who were receptive to their message. School-leaver Carl, who now won’t be driven to up sticks and explore the world, having instead spent the weekend being persuaded to follow his father into the factory. Kate might have met some people who would encourage her to pursue her secret writing passions, and become the author she’d dreamed of becoming since reading the Goosebumps books in primary school. But, because the Convention was cancelled, she just ended up having no excuse but to go out on the lash with her embarrassing friends, and meeting a trucker who she’ll be too frightened to ever leave.

And others, who’ll just be left with a low opinion of a town that prefers to perpetuate its own misery than embrace other ideas.

I guess we just live in a world where a Jack Kerouac Convention in Rotherham always did sound like a euphemism for an event that was cancelled due to poor ticket sales.