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Auction Name: 2017 March 8 Rare Books Signature Auction - New York
Lot Number: 45378
Shortcut to Lot: HA.com/6174-45378
Neal Cassady (1926-1968). The Joan Anderson Letter to Jack Kerouac (1922-1969).
Denver: 17 December 1950. Typed letter of eighteen pages with autograph content and with autograph additions, deletions, and edits, by hand in pencil and ink. Eighteen pages, approximately 16,000 words. Minor toning and browning to the pages, light wear and chipping to the edges from handling. Altogether, in excellent condition.
Written while high on speed, by Cassady's own later confession, the letter had an immediate impact on Kerouac, who transformed its verve into a lasting influence on literature (Kerouac mentions the letter in Part Five of On the Road
- not to mention capturing the tone, drive and music of Cassady's prose in that novel). The letter describes in great detail Neal's frenzied love life in 1946, especially with Joan Anderson, the reason Cassady and Kerouac referred to the letter as "The Joan Anderson Letter", as it is known to this day. Cassady's free, honest and energetic prose seems to be what Kerouac was searching for stylistically, and without success up to that point. Moved by Cassady's letter, Jack Kerouac responded on December 27: "I thought it ranked among the best things ever written in America... almost as good as...'Notes from the Underground' of Dostoevsky... You gather... the best... of Joyce, Céline, Dosy ..." [Selected Letters I, page 242].
The "Joan Anderson Letter", believed to be lost for more than six decades, was discovered in 2012 in the archived files of the Golden Goose Press. In December of 1950, Kerouac recognized immediately the worthiness and brilliance of the letter, and gave it to Allen Ginsberg (who also wanted to read it) to try to find a publisher. Ginsberg gave the letter to Gerd Stern, a representative for Ace Books who lived at that time on a boat in Sausalito. Ace did not accept the typescript for publication, and it was returned to Ginsberg. Dick Emerson, the owner of the Golden Goose Press, was a publisher specializing in poetry and a friend of Allen Ginsberg and Gerd Stern. He likely received the letter from Ginsberg after it was rejected by Ace, but never acted on it (or possibly never got to it) and it went into the files. When Emerson stopped running the Golden Goose Press, Jack Spinosa, with whom he shared the office, stopped Emerson from dumping the files in the trash, and was given the files by Dick Emerson. The files were kept safe, eventually stored in the Spinosa home in Oakland, California, until Jack Spinosa's death in November of 2011. The letter was discovered by his daughter, Jean Spinosa, in 2012.
Though never published in full, a short fragment was published more than a dozen years after it was written, by which time its influence and place in literary lore were already established. John Bryan published a portion of the letter (apparently copied by Kerouac before Ginsberg started his adventure with the letter) titled "The First Third" in his Notes from the Underground
. The same portion was again published in 1971 by City Lights Books as an addendum to Cassady's The First Third
Original literary material of any kind by Cassady is virtually unknown in the market and in the auction archives. This offering presents a unique opportunity to acquire an original typescript of soaring literary significance, and a foundational document in the history of beat literature and its ensuing influence on the Beat Generation. Neal Cassady never received the accolades or respect that surely would have been his had this letter been published all those years ago, but here it is, still seeking a literary steward and publisher.
Neal Cassady's 'The Joan Anderson Letter' has been described as visionary, frenetic, incendiary, foundational, discursive, spontaneous, uninhibited, truthful, compelling, free, rambling, unaffected, fluid, non-literary, incredible, a seminal document, incantatory, revolutionary, confessional, rhapsodic, inspirational, revealing, and in Jack Kerouac's own words: "The greatest piece of writing I ever saw."
Also included in the lot is a one-page typescript by Neal Cassady describing his early sexual experiences. Typed on the verso of a one-page holograph letter from "Michael" dated 6 October, 1945, Korea. Original reused envelope that Ginsberg delivered the letter to Gerd Stern, and subsequently, Dick Emerson also included.