Home Art shop Beat Book Bookstore Owner Tom Peters Pays Tribute to Jack Kerouac on His 100th Birthday

Beat Book Bookstore Owner Tom Peters Pays Tribute to Jack Kerouac on His 100th Birthday


Tom Peters, owner of Boulder’s Beat Book Shop, can’t tell you what his favorite Jack Kerouac piece is because he considers most books to be really one great work. (Kerouac agreed.) Peters can, however, name eight or nine of the books the rhythm icon has written in his 47 years on this planet that top his list of favorites.

“His ten or twelve most famous books are part of an ongoing story that I read as a piece of one thing, and it’s hard to separate them,” says Peters. “On the Road, The Dharma Bums, The Subterraneans, Big Sur, Visions of Cody, Lonesome Traveler, Sartoria in Paris, Desolation Angels — they all talk to me, and they carry me forward.

Kerouac would have been 100 years old on Saturday March 12. Peters marks the occasion with readings of Kerouac’s work during his weekly poetry reading, So, You’re a Poet. The readings, which take place tonight, March 7, and Monday, March 14, will include a multi-person reading The tramps of Dharma. The public is also invited to read his favorite pieces by the author, and Peters expects some readers to chime in from a distance.

“It’s a great way for people to experience the beauty of the language,” he says. “There is something they might not understand if they read it themselves. In the age of short attention spans, there will be many people, many different voices reading different parts of different books.

He adds that people might leave the reading feeling quite pissed off. “I hope it inspires them to read books they haven’t read and write things and push the boundaries,” he says.

Kerouac found inspiration in Colorado and he briefly owned a home in Lakewood in the late 1940s. Sections of his magnum opus On the road take place in Denver, including trips to Larimer Street and watching a football game on Welton Street. The writing style of the book was itself influenced by a long letter to Kerouac written by his friend and fellow beat poet Neal Cassady from a seedy Mile High City hotel. Boulder’s Buddhist-influenced college, Naropa University, is home to the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics.

Peters studied poetry in school and finds that Kerouac’s work has influenced artists in many forms of media. Jim Morrison, for example, said that if he hadn’t read On the road and hitchhiking to Los Angeles, the Doors wouldn’t have existed. Bob Dylan was also inspired by Kerouac’s work, as were many filmmakers.

“He didn’t just spawn a lot of prose writers or poets,” Peters says. “He spawned a lot of musicians who felt they took something out of his work that made them want to make great music or make a great movie. It’s endless. … He inspired a lot of great artists in other fields in a way that all other writers haven’t.

Peters opened the Beat Book Shop in 1990 and honors Kerouac daily in a number of ways, including shop t-shirts emblazoned with the image of the Beat icon and the words “Camp Kerouac”. He sells Kerouac’s books, and there are plenty of Beat ephemera for the discerning fan scattered around the crowded shop.

Peters has held his weekly poetry readings since 1989. Each year, the readings around Kerouac’s birthday are centered around the writer, and Peters jokes that he’s been preparing for the upcoming readings for 32 years. He likes to hear works read aloud.

“I always learned something,” he says. “I always get something new from work that I’ve already read to myself. There’s a lot of musicality in Kerouac’s work, and it comes out in the writing.

Although he likes Kerouac’s work, he is reluctant to call him his favorite writer.

“It’s my opinion that I have 100 favorite writers or ten favorite writers, but I don’t think I could have a favorite writer,” he says. “If someone said, ‘You’re on a desert island,’ there are five or ten other writers I wouldn’t want to miss reading again.”

Jack Kerouac 100th Anniversary Poetry Readings, 8:30-11 p.m., Monday, March 7 and Monday, March 14, Wesley Foundation United Methodist, 1290 Folsom Street in Boulder. A donation of $1 to $2 is encouraged. The readings will be streamed live on the Beat Book Bookstore’s Instagram page.