Taking Chances Today

September 2008
by Florrie Binford Kichler

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Taking Chances Today

by Florrie Binford Kichler

On display at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and preserved under glass, the manuscript, in the form of a scroll, measures 120 feet (one third the length of a football field) by approximately 8.5 inches.

Stained, ragged, and consisting of pieces of tracing paper taped together, it boasts 40 yards of words, typed continuously on an Underwood typewriter during three weeks in 1951. The discouraged young author of this scroll spent six years shopping his book, which, despite multiple drafts, was deemed unpublishable by each publisher who saw it.

Malcolm Cowley, who read it at Viking Press, wrote, “Some of his best episodes would get the book suppressed for obscenity, but I think there is a book here that should and must be published.”

Viking still rejected the book.

Then, after heavy editing and legal vetting, Viking Press accepted the book and published it in 1957.

A half-century later, Jack Kerouac’s classic and groundbreaking anthem to the Beat generation, On the Road, has sold more than 3 million copies and continues to sell 100,000 copies a year.

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