Letter that launched Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ discovered, put up for auction
A long-lost letter written to Beat generation icon Jack Kerouac, causing him to revise his writing style and start over on his classic ‘On the Road,’ has been discovered and will be put up for auction, reports the Associated Press.
The rambling 18-page, single-spaced letter, written by Kerouac friend Neal Cassady in 1950, was believed lost after Beat poet Allen Ginsberg loaned it to a friend living on a houseboat in Northern California. The letter, describing a drunken, sexually-fueled visit by Cassady to his hometown of Denver, was believed to have been dropped overboard.
Upon originally receiving the letter, Kerouac scrapped an early draft of ‘On The Road,’ and went on three-week writing binge, rewriting the novel in Cassady’s stream-of-consciousness style.
In an interview with The Paris Review in 1968, Kerouac described the letter as “…the greatest piece of writing I ever saw, better’n anybody in America, or at least enough to make Melville, Twain, Dreiser, Wolfe, I dunno who, spin in their graves.”
According to Joe Maddalena, whose auction house Profiles in History is putting the letter up for sale on Dec. 17, the letter was just misplaced.
Ginsberg reportedly had tried to get the letter published when he mailed it to Golden Goose Press in San Francisco, where it remained, unopened, until the small publishing house folded.
The letter was obtained by the operator of a small, independent music label who shared an office with Golden Goose, who took every manuscript, letter, and receipt in the Golden Goose Archives home with him.
“My father didn’t know who Allen Ginsberg was, he didn’t know Cassady, he wasn’t part of the Beat scene, but he loved poetry,” said Los Angeles performance artist Jean Spinosa, who found the letter as she was cleaning out her late father’s house two years ago. “He didn’t understand how anyone would want to throw someone’s words out.”
The letter will be put up for auction along with papers by E.E. Cummings, Kenneth Rexroth, Robert Penn Warren, but Maddalena believes the Cassady letter will be the top item receiving bids.
“It’s the seminal piece of literature of the Beat Generation, and there are so many rumors and speculation of what happened to it,” Maddalena said.