Hoarders have been vindicated! The long lost letter of Neal Cassady has been found!! The letter would have ended up in the trash if it weren’t for Jack Spinosa, of West Hollywood. When his neighbor, of Golden Goose Press, was forced to move out of his office building, he started throwing everything away. Spinosa felt bad that people’s writing was just being trashed and saved boxes he never looked at. He kept them in his home without reviewing anything. The letter was discovered two years ago by his daughter, Jean Spinosa when she was cleaning out her father’s home. She found an envelope marked A. Ginsberg and initially there was some confusion as her father shares the same first name as Kerouac. She didn’t understand why Allen Ginsberg would be writing to her father. After reading a few pages she realized it was from Neal Cassady to Jack Kerouac. She began her research and realized what she found when she read the Paris Review interview with Kerouac. In it, he describes the letter and credits it with the basis of style for On the Road and describes a small drawing of a window.
This is truly one of the greatest literary finds of the twenty-first century. Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, and Allen Ginsberg wrote long letters to one another. They didn’t have their stream-of-consciousness-style yet. Kerouac had the idea of On the Road, but was unhappy with the direction it was taking so he put it aside. Then Cassady wrote an 18 page letter to Jack about his exploits in Denver after he was released from prison. Much of the letter had to do with visiting Joan Anderson in the hospital. This letter, forever after known as the “Joan Anderson letter” inspired Kerouac’s style in On the Road and thus the Beat movement.
This week I attended a private viewing of the long lost Joan Anderson letter at the Beat Museum.
Oftentimes one cannot get close to an author’s physical writing. Their letters and manuscripts are usually stored in academic libraries. And sadly, there just aren’t many traveling exhibitions based on authors and books. (There are of course, a number of author/illustrator exhibitions.) So to be so close to the letter and realize that Neal had typed those words, those pen marks were his, that little doodle drawing of a window was his, was breathtaking. That letter went to Jack Kerouac, held in his hands, and then on to Ginsberg. Cassady has corrected his mistakes with a felt tip pen.
Maybe it feels so sacred because physical traces of authors are disappearing. Most writers use computers and letters are electronically mailed. There are no rough drafts and there are no physical touches to emails. What if Cassady had emailed the letter? Would it be nearly as influential? Yes, the style and content would be there, and yes, it probably never would have been lost, but the letter, its physical body became stained with time, creased in half, discolored, was lost and then found and survived it all. And there lies the beauty. We want to think that this letter represents Cassady’s physical body, not just his authorial body. This letter allows us to believe that some part of Cassady survived that desert death.
Having seen the letter, I walked home and felt a sense of pride. That letter generated a whole new genre of writing, a new way of living, a new style of dress. And most of their history takes place in San Francisco, it’s where Ginsberg wrote Howl, it’s where Cassady chased a girl, it’s the city that Kerouac drove to. Their history is entwined with San Francisco, which is my home and I felt excited and possessive. It belongs here, where people can view it every day, where it would be published for all to read.
The Beat Museum held the press preview early this week. They had a small private viewing and I was fortunate enough to be invited. The letter will be put up for auction by Profiles in History on December 17 with an opening reserve of $300,000. This letter belongs in the Beat Museum and because they are a non-profit, they don’t have the funds to make such a large purchase. They have started a fundraising campaign, called The Lost Letter Campaign. This letter needs a home, and a good steward and I can’t think of a better place than the Beat Museum. I highly encourage you to join me and contribute to the cause. Don’t let another piece of San Francisco be bought up and taken away from us.