Category Archive 'Neal Cassaday'

24 May 2016

Jack Kerouac: “The Greatest Piece of Writing I Ever Saw”

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CassadayLetter2

At Christie’s Books and Manuscripts Sale 12260, 16 June 2016, in New York, Neal Cassaday’s 40-page Lost Letter to Jack Kerouac, Lot 146, Estimated price: $400,000 — $600,000.

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 with On 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.’


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