Get Your Hands on the Letter that Launched Kerouacs On the Road”

At the forefront of the Beat generation, a writing era marked by untethered narrative, hallucinogens and the dawning of a hippie heaven, is a man who wrote very little himself. As a major influence of the era, Neal Cassady didn’t write much, and his novel, The First Third, is not nearly as well recived as other books of the time. Nonetheless, Cassady was the Beat generation guru, the literal force behind the wheel of Kesey’s traveling hippie mobile, and, according to Jack Kerouac, the man who’s letter influenced On the Roadthe novel that spurred many a sabbatical and quarter life crises. According to Kerouac, the letter he recieved from Cassady would “make Melville, Twain, Dreiser, [and] Wolfe … spin in their graves.”

And now, thanks to a reccent rediscovery of the letter, you can get your hands on this one of a kind piece of literary history.


Image courtesy of Christie’s


The 1950 letter, a rambling eighteen page typed correspondence to Kerouac, will be auctioned courtesy of Christie’s next month in New York. Dubbed the “Joan Anderson Letter”, the some 16,000 word letter describes Cassady’s affair with Anderson, financial difficulty, and a life “entangled in the weave of [his] misery mists.” The letter carries an estimated value of about $600,000.   

Very few, other than the Cassady family and the writers it was passed onto from Kerouac, are familiar with the letter in its entirty. What exactly catapulted the road enamoured novel into existance, the pages that ooze with whiskey benders, fleeting romance, and the readers echoing remark to himself – I could totally dig Benzedrine – is quite unknown.  More generally speaking, it was the fervent urgency of the letter that inspired the unravelling messy style of On The Road. The letter was, according to Kerouac, “the greatest piece of writing [he] ever saw.”


Squad goals (Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac, Image courtesy of LA Times)


The link between the letter and one of the most infamous pieces of fiction is foggy and exciting and we desperately wish we could get our greedy little palms on it! Lucky for you (or the you’s that have $600,000 to spare) the letter can be yours in just a few weeks. Beginning May 31st, the letter will be on public view in Seattle, followed by San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York on June 16th, where the auction will be held.

Not ready to shell out half a mill? No to worry, the Cassady family intends to publish the letter sometime in the near future. 


Featured image courtesy of Time.