Discovery: The letter Jack Kerouac described as ‘The greatest piece of writing I ever saw’
Considered ‘lost’ for 66 years, Neal Cassady’s visionary ‘Joan Anderson letter’ is a foundational document of the Beat era and the inspiration for Kerouac’s literary revolutions, beginning withOn the Road
Neal Cassady’s long-lost letter to Jack Kerouac, dated 17 December 1950, has permeated virtually every conversation about the Beat era. Referenced not only by Kerouac but by Allen Ginsberg, Laurence Ferlinghetti, Herbert Hunke, and a host of their contemporaries, Cassady’s fluid, incantatory, and deeply revealing prose influenced the entire generation of Beat writers.
The letter was written on a three-day Benzedrine high, Cassady later confessed. It contained, by Kerouac’s first calculation, at least 13,000 words and ran to 40 pages, offering a compelling, unaffected and discursive account of Cassady’s frenetic love life in 1946, particularly with Joan Anderson (whom he visited in a hospital after a failed suicide), and ‘Cherry Mary’, recounting an acrobatic escape through a bathroom window when they were surprised by Mary’s aunt. The uninhibited, non-literary narrative pointed the way to the free, truthful style to which Kerouac aspired.
Overwhelmed by what he read, Kerouac wrote ecstatically to Cassady on 27 December: ‘I thought it ranked among the best things ever written in America… it was almost as good as the unbelievably good ‘Notes from the Underground’ of Dostoevsky… You gather together all the best styles… of Joyce, Céline, Dosy… and utilize them in the muscular rush of your own narrative style & excitement. I say truly, no Dreiser, no Wolfe has come close to it; Melville was never truer.’
Cassady, Neal (1926-1968). Typed letter completed in autograph and with autograph additions, corrections, and deletions in pencil and pen, to Jack Kerouac (1922-1969), Denver, 17 December 1950. 18 pages, comprising nearly 16,000 words, some pale browning and minor marginal chipping. Estimate: $400,000-600,000. This lot is offered in the Books & Manuscripts sale on 16 June at Christie’s New York. © Cathy Sylvia Cassady, Jami Cassady and John Cassady
© Cathy Sylvia Cassady, Jami Cassady and John Cassady
In an interview published in the Summer 1968 issue of The Paris Review, Kerouac famously hailed the letter’s impact: ‘I got the idea for 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).’
Nearly everyone who knew Cassady was struck by his natural verbal virtuosity as a monologist. Kerouac’s first wife, Joan Haverty Kerouac, recounted his tales of ‘cares and escapades, jail memories and women and nights and blues’, though she was certain that no writing ‘could… capture the vitality and intensity of the voice I now heard, describing everything in such a way that lived it just by listening.’
Never read, or merely neglected, the letter remained untended until its discovery in 2012
As with many documents of the era, the ‘Joan Anderson’ letter travelled a complex path through many hands, and for the majority of the last 66 years was considered lost. After being entranced by it and responding, Kerouac gave the letter to Allen Ginsberg to read and offer to publishers.
Ginsberg then took the letter to his friend Gerd Stern, who was living in Sausalito in California on a houseboat and working as a West Coast rep for Ace Books. Within the tight Beat nexus, Ginsberg and Stern formed a bond after meeting at the mental facility where they were both introduced to (Howl-dedicatee) Carl Solomon. Solomon’s uncle owned Ace Books, and it was Ace that had published William S. Burroughs’ Junkie in 1953.
Despite their enthusiasm, Ace rejected publication of Cassady’s typescript and it was returned by Stern to Ginsberg. The letter then went missing and the story was born — perpetuated most emphatically by Kerouac — that it had been lost over the side of Stern’s boat.
In fact, Cassady’s letter had been preserved in the files of the Golden Goose Press. Owned by Ginsberg and Stern’s friend R.W. ‘Dick’ Emerson, the Golden Goose Press was known for publishing some of the finest poets of the period, and for making audio recordings of their readings. Emerson placed the envelope containing the letter on his ‘to read’ pile. Never read, or merely neglected, it remained untended until its discovery in 2012 by Jean Spinosa.
No records of any sales are recorded in the online databases for any Cassady material, let alone for material of this literary consequence
Ginsberg later had no memory of giving the Joan Anderson Letter to Stern, and when Emerson closed the Golden Goose Press the letter was packed further into obscurity. It may have been lost for ever had not John ‘Jack’ Spinosa, Emerson’s officemate at 40 Gold Street in San Francisco, insisted on preserving the press’s archives when they were forced to vacate their rental space.
Spinosa recognized that literary history was preserved in those files, and saved them from being thrown away as Emerson cleared the office. The boxes remained with Spinosa and his wife Kathleen Cohan until after his death on 29 November 2011. On the following 15 May, Jack’s daughter Jean discovered this long-lost treasure of post-war American literature, buried among the files of the Golden Goose Press.
Only a fragment of the letter has ever been published — 14 years after it was written, and after the great works it influenced had come out. A portion of the letter, apparently copied by Kerouac before he passed it on to Ginsberg, was published in 1964 by John Bryan in his Notes from Underground #1, where it was called ‘The First Third’. Bryan claimed that Cassady himself came to help print it, while the title suggests that Cassady was by this time considering it as the first portion of his ongoing autobiography.
The same extract was published by City Lights in 1971 as an addendum to Cassady’s book The First Third, and later formed the basis of the 1997 film The Last Time I Committed Suicide, directed by Stephen T. Kay, and starring Thomas Jane and Keanu Reeves.
It is an understatement to remark that Neal Cassady material is scarce at auction: it is unprecedented. No records of any sales are recorded in the online databases for any Cassady material, let alone for material of this literary significance. The circumstances of its preservation and appearance at auction constitute a unique opportunity to acquire a foundational post-war literary manuscript that transcends its humble origins as a ‘letter’.
Free haiku and paintings on variety of paper. Made in Tottori, Japan, 1993/4. Read publicly at my older brother’s wedding in Okizaki, Japan.
I’d recently rambled Europe and feasted on Van Gogh and Mattisse and combining their bold lines and bright colours with the efficiency and conciseness of Japanese aesthetic, these emerged.
Produced into a very limited run series (maybe 30?) of chapbooks printed on hemp + cereal straw paper and sewn (top binding) with hemp thread in Guam in 1995/6 and mailed to friends. I don’t have one of these bound copies, only the delicate originals in a file.
HempenRoad Blurb (from the back of the video box)
Although cultivated since 4000 BC, the Industrial strains of Cannabis Sativa are illegal in most countries in the world.
Now, as we stand on the edge of the century, people are rediscovering the versatile, ecological Cannabis plant however, many questions arise. Well, here’s the answers.
The HempenRoad is a travel-documentary, exploring what’s happening in the commercial hemp industry around the Northwest and the World. Narrated by hemp researcher & writer Dave Olson, the HempenRoad looks for balance between Economics, Art and Ecology.
Hit the Road and hear what Entrepreneurs, Researchers, Activists and the USDA have to say about this controversial and historical plant.
Check out natural dyeing, hemp food, fashion shows, tree-free paper making, organic oils, sky-high snowboarding and medicinal use of Cannabis.
Investigate why a plant used by Lao Tzu, George Washington and Queen Victoria was made illegal? How will these laws change?
Consider sustainable solutions from experts and Government officials featured in exclusive coverage of the Commercial Industrial Hemp Symposium in Vancouver, B.C.
Travel through grand scenes of the Cascadia Bio-region, backed by diverse original Northwest soundtrack featuring: Phat Sidy Smokehouse, 420 Love, Elemental, Jah Wah & Chris Sullivan.
Shot on a variety of media (16mm, Super8, Hi8, 35mm) and completely edited by Mac O/S, director Eiji Masuda pushes the possibilities of independent multimedia filmmaking in the digital age.
85 minutes approx.
©1997 HempenRoad Film Project LLP. Unauthorized exhibition, duplication and distribution prohibited.
Send HempenRoad to your Congressperson, Grandma or Non-Profit group.
Don’t keep it a Secret.
Intro and Outro (remixed):
Hemp is a plant. Hempen culture is forever ingrained in our culture and yet we know so little about it yet all around the world the hardy strains of cannabis sativa have provided the essentials for civilizations.
The HempenRoad takes us to the Pacific Northwest, a rugged stretch of continent – like many areas the communities here try to balance economics and ecology were off to find is hemp really sustainable, durable and like many regions long dependence on natural resources have left behind battered eco-systems.
Hemp is a plant. Like many plants, cannabis sativa, comes in many varieties. Each type having unique characteristics and uses. People have cultivated and used different strains of Cannabis for thousands of years. Indeed, some say hemp was one reason humans gave up hunting and gathering instead settling down and farming, soon forming communities and history as we know it.
For cultures worldwide, hemp provided the essentials, food, shelter, clothing. As time went on, hemp was turned into , oils, ropes, paper, medicines and sails Providing a renewable resource for a growing civilizations. This plant is forever ingrained in our heritage yet we know so little about it . Somewhere along the way, hemp farming and information “disappeared” as the world entered a new industrial age. Cheap crude oil, old-growth forests, processed foods, patented medicines & synthetic cloth replaced clean growing hemp. How did this happen? Now, the global community faces the filthy legacy of this misguided prohibition. We now realize the world’s environment, economy and health isn’t really divided by lines on a map. A problem elsewhere might well be cased by a situation somewhere else. It is all the same planet after all. All around the world, people are again looking to hemp as a viable sustainable crop, capable of slowing this pollution and replenishing the earth. Is this possible? Is hemp really that strong, that versatile and ecological?
As we stand on the edge of our future, we have to re-examine the way we do things, all things, and make intelligent decisions based on truth , not hype. What will it take to bring hemp back into the global economy? Where can it grow? What can hemp really produce? Some people aren’t waiting for answers, they are leaping into action and finding their own reality. Searching for a new way of doing things. Who are they are these people what motivates them to work so hard against the preconceptions? It is just a plant, just a especially remarkable one. But what exactly is hemp? Well, we ‘re on the road to find out. The Hempen Road It’s more of a path in thinking but a concrete road in our highway reality. Highways now run through area that was only trees, water and rock less than a century and a half ago. It doesn’t take long.
On the Dock:
Here we are in Port Angeles WA the top of the Olympic Peninsula. Its a pulp town and this is where a lot of This is the great northwest coast of the Pacific Ocean, Cascadia bioregion. A rugged and majestic stretch of continent. Temperate rainforest, salmon rivers, volcanoes, rain, islands and ocean. Nature feels real and tangible here. Long dependence on natural resources for economic growth has resulted in rivers and forests that once seemed so abundant, now fading into massive clearcuts, polluted waters, damaged ecosystems. This area is historically populated with adventurers, explorers, thinkers. Individuals finding common ground. People here are outdoorsy folks, but thats not enough. To preserve a healthy planet, decisions must be made. This area, like many, struggles to balance sustainability and economy. prosperity and extinction. There must be answers, but what the questions ? Can cleaner industries like tourism, organic agriculture, alternative fibers production and processing support this bioregion? Where does hemp fit into all this?
On the ferry: (voice over)
On ocean going vessels all throughout history, ropes have often been made out of hemp. just up until the end of WW2, when uhh substitutes started being used. the hemp for victory campaign put on by the US Dept of Agriculture during the uhh mid war years ww2 was uhh pretty much to replace the ropes on navy ships with hemp.
Victoria is famous for looking nice and being a nice place to be. It is a nice place to be. flowers, animals, good air and food. this is worth something and people here realize it. Victoria is also the capital city of British Columbia so it sees a lot of political action too. The last few years, the wholesale clearcutting of several of the few remaining ancient rainforests has sparked Vancouver Island and the whole of Canada into a struggle to find a solution to an urgent problem. People here have had to become quite creative in their activism. Many realize there is no time to delay. Gone means gone forever. In the wake of this situation, hemp has moved to the forefront of solutions. Since 1994, fields of hemp grew on Canadian soil. There is still plenty of research to be done but that is just a matter of time. Laws are starting to change and the populous is awaking to address this issue and decide the fate of their island and perhaps provide a working model of sustainability to the world.
This structure is a yurt. Functional, secure, comfortable housing. It looks like something in between Genghis Khan’s Mongolian hut and something from a Dr.Suess book. This particular yurt is covered by a poly/cotton/nylon blend canvas but it could be covered with the true hemp cannabis canvas to provide inexpensive, movable living and work space almost anywhere in the world. This particular yurt is in a state park near sand dunes on the rolling Oregon coast.
So on we go, driving past borders, forests and clearcuts, rocks and water. Pulling west, we head towards the open coast. Then, turning south, we cross a long bridge across the delta of the mighty Columbia River, watching as it collides with the immensity of ocean.
The Oregon Coast and hills are known for being a haven for free-thinkers, travellers, homesteaders, artists and writers. Certainly with Eugene’s reputation of being a think-tank for alternative action, hemp must be going on in some neat way.
Around Eugene, the fertile Williamette Valley once produced abundant crops of flax and but this is no small town anymore, Cottage industries have re-adjusted to sustain themselves against the onslaught of big corporations. Hempsters here have found ways to involve their activist goals and organic ideals into new business ideas.
Portland is a kind of strange name for a city thats not really a Port, but the early 1990s, it was here that the first shipments of hempen cloth arrived on american shores in almost 50 years. As it goes, after the enthusiastic ww2 hemp for victory campaign, hemp cultivation and tax licenses were just no longer issued by many governments. Hempen agriculture faded away under an avalanche of postwar industry, slick new products and a barrage government disinformation.
As powerful governments spread their political and financial influence beyond national borders, Hemp growth was eradicated from many, then most countries in the western-influenced world. Like In the US, trade was halted, all strains were banned and declared A harmful narcotic. In the past decade, West coast activists and researchers pried open files, films, rumors and fields to discover this missing chapter of world history. As the cold war stumbled, global citizens opened up new channels of information & trade, importing hemp fibers and cloth from formerly distant, closed lands and developing exchange with Eastern Europe, South and Central Asia and from the cradle of hemp, China. From China, the first load of hemp cloth and fiber arrived in Portland creating an unparalleled opportunity for economies, artists and the environment. But first, some laws have to change and this takes a lot of work.
Folks from a variety of backgrounds realize that current cannabis restrictions are misguided and unjust. Many people face difficult questions like “when a loved one is sick, shouldn’t they have the medicine they need?” Well, it seems so but in most places, the authorities routinely arrest and imprison patients, treating the terminally ill like criminals.
Yet, before the over-proliferation of costly patented medicines and synthetic drugs, cannabis was a common ingredient in the world’s pharmacology. Even Queen Victoria used weed to soothe her ailing cramps. Well, in some states, compassion and common sense are winning as voters have empowered doctors to act in the best interest of their patients and prescribe cannabis as needed. Now, patients afflicted with cancers, glaucoma, HIV & Aids, MS and others ailments can be treated with respect. This is a beginning and a legitimate relief for the thousands of ill people who rely on the soothing, healing properties of this non-toxic herb. making their body, and human rights stronger.
Here in Olympia, people from many walks of life have envisioned what hemp can do for their families and leapt into action. Unlikely citizens running for political office, opening shops, sponsoring local teams, promoting events, challenging the courts, outreaching to the community. After all, if you knew about something that could help the planet and sick people, wouldn’t you tell someone about it?
For decades, hemp information was passed on like folk tales and rumors. Later people began educating themselves from a few books, periodicals and leaflets. These days the wide reach and accessibility of the Internet has made legitimate, verifiable facts available around the globe. Further use of the world wide web and email provide an effective means for far-flung activist groups, researchers and businesses to compare notes and strategies, promote projects, publish reports and even make films.
Seattle has grown up from a North-Western outpost known for rain, salmon and airplanes into a big-league home to a unique combination of digital high-tech, adventure sports & rough and real pop culture. Underground is real life here. This juxtaposition creates an ideal location for the dozens of hemp companies & stores based here. Companies that reflect Seattle’s personalities and hemp’s versatility.
Rushing towards the future of planet earth, we humans have implemented engineering works & technologies to provide for our perceived energy & consumer needs. Giant dams for power, off-shore oil wells, vast clearcuts for paper pulp, broken promises to the land, to workers, to ourselves. Nuclear reactors too spread across the world under a smokescreen of safety.
Only decades later do we begin to realize the environmental catastrophe of radioactive waste. Is the energy really worth the tradeoff of filthy rivers & barren land. Which really scares you more? Hemp plants or nuclear plants?
Our health and legacy are worth a wise decisions. Certainly the prospect of producing energy and fuel from a renewable robust plant like hemp deserves attention and research. Hemp fuels and oils are working, now. Port Townsend faded after the timber & pulp industry slowed but it again flourishes, this time with a sustainable mix of creative arts, tourism and wooden boats. Hemp fit right in with the local aesthetic and is already a common sight around town.
Somewhere around here is a line that chops the land into two separate countries and two different sets of rules. There are laws now about free trade between these nations but it doesn’t seem that open to me. These borders are drawn with little regard to bioregions, habitat, or even transport practicalities, aspects worth considering as we define the future trends of industry and trade.
Vancouver is a prosperous city on the vibrant Pacific Rim. Long renowned for it’s fine harbors, clean, safe streets and majestic peaks, in the last decade or so, Vancouver has grown into a international, multi-cultural metropolis, poised to become a positive example to urban centers worldwide.
The cannabis industry is flourishing here, but it’s not industrial hemp that’s growing. In this city alone, there are an estimated 3,000 grow houses producing abundant crops of THC-laden marijuana. Vancouver chooses to handle this with tolerance, education and harm reduction, placing marijuana arrests as a low priority. While Industrial hemp production currently lags behind, retailing and manufacturing of hemp products is taking off as inventive new business hit the market almost daily. In this atmosphere of commerce, tolerance, ecology and optimism, the Commercial and Industrial Hemp Symposium convened to find balance between these aspects and catapult the industry into the next century.