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The Magic Between The Covers

It is said that the power of the written word is one that cannot be erased by time.

That has probably never been more true than in the case of Jack Kerouac, iconoclastic visionary poet and novelist now 25 years removed from this planet, and yet, more popular than whenever he was alive.

With much of today's youth so effectively robbed by modern technology of the desire to devour literature, it is strange that Kerouac has found a devoted new audience, most of which was born after his death in 1969.

Perhaps it is because Kerouac, the reckless and footloose cowboy of the Beat generation whose books On The Road and The Dharma Bums tilted the literary world in the 1950s and 1960s, speaks so eloquently of his own generation's unrequited future.

Kerouac had close ties to St. Petersburg, both as a haven to nurse his frail health and troubled spirit, and to re-establish his family relationships. It is somehow fitting that on the 25th anniversary of his death, he is being celebrated by family, friends and fans Sunday at the Second Annual Times Festival Of Reading.

The Kerouac Celebration is part of a daylong festival of book talk, entertainment and exhibits that begins at 10 a.m. at Eckerd College, 4200 54th Avenue South. The Kerouac tribute, which begins at noon at the Bininger Theatre, features a panel discussion with Sterling Lord, Kerouac's literary agent since On the Road; Joyce Johnson, author of Minor Characters: A Young Woman's Coming Of Age in the Beat Orbit of Jack Kerouac; and Barry Gifford, author of Jack's Book and the screenplay for Francis Ford Coppola's upcoming film version of On the Road. At 1:30 Roy Clark of the Poynter Institute will interview Ronny Lowe, a local musician who knew Kerouac in St. Petersburg (Author Richard Hill will not appear as previously announced). At 3 p.m. Kerouac's daughter, Jan Kerouac, will read excerpts from her father's works.

The festival also will include book talks by more than a dozen well-known authors including novelist Tom Robbins (Half Asleep In Frog Pajamas), P.J. O'Rourke (All The Trouble In The World), Doris Kearns Goodwin (No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Homefront in World War II), Art Buchwald (Leaving Home) and Ed McBain (There Was A Little Girl).

Other authors in appearance include Roy Blount, Jr., Bill Thomas, Haynes Johnson, Julia Alvarez, Gregory Alan-Williams, Jeff Moss, Connie May Fowler, Sterling Watson and Claudia Johnson. (See accompanying schedule.)

Additional highlights of the festival include:

Children's activities (featuring a read-a-thon), kids creations and book give-aways.

Contemporary and traditional folk and acoustic music by Jan Milner and Charley Groth, Veronika Jackson, Aurora's Calling, Myriad, Harpbeat, Kirby Rambert, Tracy Riordian and Gwen Rector.

Celebrity readings by WTVT Channel 13 anchors Kathy Fountain, Frank Robertson, Kelly Ring and Denise White; WUSF Concert 90 programmer Susan Giles; and WMNF Community Radio programer James Tokley, Sr.

Storytelling by members of the Pinellas Library Cooperative.