Long-Lost Letter from Neal Cassady to Jack Kerouac Headed to Auction (Again)

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The 16,000-word letter written by Neal Cassady, which helped inspire Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.”Credit Reuters

A rambling 1950 letter from Neal Cassady to Jack Kerouac that helped inspire “On the Road” will be auctioned next month by Christie’s in New York, apparently bringing to an end an 18-month legal battle over its ownership.

The 16,000-word typed letter, which carries an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000, had been considered lost before it surfaced in the discarded files of Golden Goose Press, a now-defunct small San Francisco publisher, and listed for sale by a Southern California auction house in 2014. That auction was suspended after the Kerouac estate and Cassady’s children said they were the owners.

Jami Cassady, a spokeswoman for the family, told The San Francisco Chronicle this week that the three parties had reached “an amicable settlement.” She also said the family, which owns the copyright on the letter, intended to publish it at some point.

The missive, known as the Joan Anderson letter, after a woman with whom Cassady described an amorous relationship, had been known only from a fragment, apparently retyped by Kerouac, that was published in 1964. In an interview in 1968, Kerouac said he had got the idea of the “spontaneous style” of “On the Road” from “seeing how good old Neal Cassady wrote his letters to me, all first person, fast, mad, confessional, completely serious, all detailed, with real names in his case, however (being letters).”

“It was 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,” Kerouac said.

After receiving the letter Kerouac lent it to Allen Ginsberg, who passed it along to another poet, who was living on a houseboat, who “lost the letter, overboard, I presume,” Kerouac said. Instead, it was sent to the offices of Golden Goose for possible publication, but went…

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