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Auction of rare Cassady-Kerouac letter canceled

Jack Kerouac thought Neal Cassady's influential letter fell into the bay, but it has resurfaced

A long-lost letter from Neal Cassady to his friend Jack Kerouac will not be auctioned as planned, due to disagreements between the estates of both men.

The nine-page, 16,000-word letter, thought to be a seminal moment in Beat history, was penned by Cassady in 1950 and sent to Kerouac. In it, Cassady described a debauched visit to his hometown, Denver, and an affair with a woman he called Joan Anderson.

The so-called "Joan Anderson Letter" landed in Kerouac's hands at a critical time. Cassady's manic style inspired him to start over on the book he'd been working on, "On the Road." That novel, of course, would go on to massive success, becoming one of the mainstays of the future counterculture.

“We’ve made it clear that the letter belongs to the estate of Jack Kerouac and should be returned,” a representative for Kerouac's estate told the San Francisco Chronicle. Cassady's estate has also laid claim to it.

But neither estate has had possession of the letter. It was discovered just two years ago among papers not connected to the Beats; up until then, it had been thought lost.

In 1968, Kerouac told the Paris Review that he'd given the letter -- "the greatest piece of writing I ever saw," -- to Allen Ginsberg, in hopes that Ginsberg could help get it published. While Ginsberg and Kerouac had become successful authors, Cassady, whose energy and lust for life had inspired them both, had struggled. According to Kerouac, Ginsberg gave the letter to a friend with a houseboat who dropped it overboard.

While Kerouac was angry with Ginsberg's carelessness, apparently that story wasn't true. The letter wound up in the submissions pile at a small San Francisco publisher, never opened. When the publisher folded, a music publisher rescued the archives -- but he never knew what he had.

"My father didn't know who Allen Ginsberg was, he didn't know Cassady, he wasn't part of the Beat scene, but he loved poetry," Jean Spinosa told the Associated Press. "He didn't understand how anyone would want to throw someone's words out."

Spinosa found the letter when cleaning out her late father's house two years ago. She's the one who brought it to the auction house Profiles in History, which had planned to auction it on Dec. 17.

The auction is indefinitely postponed; Profiles in History plans to take legal action to ask a court to determine ownership of the letter so it can be sold.

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