One of the most famous letters in American literature, presumed lost for over 60 years, has been found. Author Neal Cassady's legendary, long "Joan Anderson Letter," written to Jack Kerouac in 1950, will be up for auction on Dec. 17, the Associated Press reports.
Cassady's 16,000-word letter is credited with heavily influencing Kerouac's "On the Road," one of the first, and certainly the most famous, Beat generation novels. Kerouac referred to it as the "Joan Anderson Letter," after a woman with whom Cassady had been romantically involved.
The letter was presumed lost after Kerouac lent it to Beat poet Allen Ginsberg. According to the AP, Ginsberg had sent it to a small publisher called Golden Goose Press, and it was never opened before the press closed. It was taken home by the owner of a music label who worked in the same office as Golden Goose, and years later, discovered by the late label owner's daughter, Jean Spinosa, a Los Angeles actress and performance artist.
In a 1968 interview with the Paris Review, Kerouac had high praise for the letter: "It was the greatest piece of writing I ever saw, better'n anybody in America, or at least enough to make Melville, Twain, Dreiser, Wolfe, I dunno who, spin in their graves."
The letter will be sold by Profiles in History, a Calabasas auction house, as part of a lot that also includes documents from novelist Robert Penn Warren and poet E.E. Cummings.
In September, a collection of 17 letters and two postcards written by Kerouac to his friend George J. Apostolos were auctioned by Skinner Inc. The documents fetched $61,000. Kerouac's archive is at the New York Public Library, though some of the author's documents are part of the collection at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin.