A Portrait of Neal Cassady Rediscovered

Originally published in the Marina Times San Francisco in January 2015

In December 1950, Neal Cassady wrote a letter to his friend Jack Kerouac. Like a message in a bottle, these pieces of paper traveled , lost in time, only to resurface years later in a group of discarded poems.

Neal Cassady famously inspired the character Dean Moriarty, Jack Kerouac’s protagonist in his classic Beat novel On The Road. Though Neal is commonly viewed as the muse of the Beat generation, the re-emergence of this 18 page single spaced typed letter is further evidence of Neal the gifted writer. Jean Spinosa discovered Neal’s letter, called as the Joan Anderson letter, (named after Neal’s girlfriend who is referenced in the correspondence), in her father’s things which included discarded publishing submissions belonging to Golden Goose Press, with whom he had shared an office.

Jerry Cimino of the Beat Museum in San Francisco said “This is the greatest find in the history of The Beat Generation. This is even more important than Jack Kerouac’s original scroll version of On the Road that sold at auction for $2.4 million in 2001. This is the letter that caused Jack Kerouac to shift his writing style from a rather staid, Thomas Wolfean style of writing to what Kerouac called ‘bop spontaneous prose’ which he used for On the Road.”

Cassady died when he was just 41, cementing his place in the counterculture of the 1950’s and 1960’s. His early death seemed to reinforce the legend of Neal as muse. Poet and publisher Charles Plymell lived with Cassady on Gough Street in San Francisco in the early sixties and recognized Neal’s enormous talent and his somewhat tense relationship with his identity as a Beat legend. “No wonder he had an underlying hostility for being the ‘errand boy’ for the famous names who had no story but him. All of whom could not hold a candle to this writing, which is not a Benzedrine rush as much as an accomplished prose of a great writer.”
In all likelihood the letter will be published in its entirety at some point in the near future. Neal Cassady’s instinctive, feverish writing style as presented in the Joan Anderson letter might help to redefine his place in the world of 20th century literature as a talent extending beyond that footnote to Jack Kerouac’s development and as a presence larger than the inspiration behind Dean Moriarty.

The Beat Museum has started a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to hopefully purchase the letter at auction. Jean Spinosa originally planned to auction the Joan Anderson letter on December 17th, but the auction has been called off indefinitely as the Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac estates are now disputing ownership of the document.

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