Letter That Inspired Beat Lit Resurfaces After 50 Years

Kerouac thought Cassady letter fell off houseboat
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 23, 2014 11:14 PM CST
Updated Nov 24, 2014 1:09 AM CST
Letter That Inspired Beat Lit Resurfaces After 50 Years
This 1962 photo shows Beat Generation writer Jack Kerouac.    (AP Photo/File)

The letter that Jack Kerouac says inspired the spontaneous style of On the Road and later works—spawning the genre of Beat literature in the process—has resurfaced after having been believed lost for nearly 50 years. Kerouac believed the 16,000-word letter Neal Cassady wrote describing a drug-fueled visit to Denver vanished in 1968 after poet Allen Ginsberg loaned it to a friend who dropped it overboard from a houseboat, but Ginsberg had actually mailed it to a San Francisco publisher, the AP reports. When Golden Goose Press folded, the unopened submission was saved by a music label operator who took the publishing house's archives home. It was finally opened by his daughter when she was cleaning out his house after his death.

In a 1968 interview where he slammed Ginsberg for being "careless" with the letter, Kerouac described it 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." The daughter of the man who saved the letter brought it to an auction house, which authenticated it and will put it up for sale next month. She says she hopes whoever buys it will make it available for the public to read. "The letter is so good, and you see why these guys loved him," she says. "The writing, it just breathes off the page." Kerouac's first novel, written when he was 20, was finally published in 2011 after it was found in his archives more than 40 years after his death. (More Neal Cassady stories.)

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