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Reconsidering the Importance of the Joan Anderson Letter

It’s been an exciting few years for fans of the Beat Generation. Since Beatdom was founded, we have seen the release of a number of high profile movie adaptations (including Howl and On the Road), the publication of previously unpublished Beat works like The Sea is My Brother, and various major anniversaries (including the fifty years that have passed since Howl and On the Road were published, as well as the centenary of the birth of William S. Burroughs). Perhaps as a result of these events we have witnessed a revival of interest in the Beats, and as such a plethora of new critical works on their lives and art. Beat studies is thriving and the Beats are gaining respect as an important part of literary and cultural history.

Last month, however, came the biggest event of them all. It was a shockwave that passed quickly through not only the Beat studies community, but the literary world as a whole. The fabled Joan Anderson Letter – thought to be the origin of Jack Kerouac’s bop spontaneous prose style, and until now considered lost at sea – was found and quickly put up for auction. The buzz spread far beyond the various online Kerouac communities to newspapers around the globe, and for seemingly good reason. It seemed hard to understate the importance of this letter in Beat history, but also, by proxy, its significance upon Western culture. It was considered the missing link, or even the Holy Grail, of Beat studies.

The Past

The story goes that the letter was a breakthrough for Jack Kerouac, who, when it was composed, was struggling with the genesis of what would become his most famous work, and one of the most important novels in American history, On the Road. On December 17th, 1950, Neal Cassady wrote Kerouac a letter that Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg would later refer to as “the Joan Anderson letter” due to a passage within that referred to a woman Cassady had slept with. The confessional style of Cassady’s writing was influential over the recipient, who would put down the “original scroll” version of On the Road only a few months later, in April, 1951. When, in 1965, he was asked about the origins of the book’s style, Kerouac explained, “I got the idea for the spontaneous style of On the Road from seeing how good old Neal Cassady wrote his letters to me, all first person, fast, mad, confessional, completely serious, all detailed, with real names.”

Kerouac, ever interested in mythologizing, and in creating and maintaining the image of Cassady as some immaculate saint, went on to call it “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.”[1] Indeed, he had previously told Cassady that his letter “combines[s] the looseness of innovation with natural perfect rhythm – perfect natural speech.”[2] Ginsberg was equally enthusiastic, writing to Cassady in March, 1951: “I am impressed and astonished at the magnitude of the work that you have done in the Joan Story, which seems to me an almost pure masterpiece.”[3]

It would seem that On the Road couldn’t have been written without the Joan Anderson letter. Without On the Road, the face of Western culture – or at least counterculture – over the next half century would be staggeringly different. It changed everything, giving rise to the hitch-hiking, hedonistic youth of the sixties, and by consequence influencing so much of our literature, music, and film thereafter. And, according to Kerouac’s own claims, all that seemed to have stemmed from Cassady’s letter.

Although part of the letter was transcribed – possibly by Kerouac or Ginsberg – and published posthumously in Cassady’s autobiography, The First Third, the entire letter went missing and was presumed lost. Naturally, this added to its mystique. The sacred text that Kerouac claimed to have been the greatest thing ever written, and the central piece in the creation of one of the most important novels in recent history, was apparently – and befitting such an epic tale – lost at sea. The story goes that Kerouac leant the letter to Ginsberg, who gave it to the literary agent, Gerd Stern (who helped publish William S. Burroughs’ Junky) in 1955. Later they claimed that Stern had been reading it on a houseboat when it had gone overboard and into the frigid waters of the San Francisco Bay, lost forever. The greatest words ever assembled on paper were washed away, never to be read by another soul. Kerouac chastised Ginsberg, and Ginsberg blamed Stern, and Stern insisted that he’d returned it to Ginsberg. According to Jerry Cimino, curator of the Beat Museum in San Francisco, Stern was pleading his innocence for decades, and claimed that Ginsberg admitted fault later in life.

The Present

However, as Stern always maintained, he had returned the letter to Ginsberg, and Ginsberg had sent it elsewhere. In fact, he had sent it to Richard Emerson at Golden Goose Press. The letter remained unread and, shortly after, Emerson closed the press and sent his archives to a friend. About two years ago, Jean Spinosa – the daughter of Emerson’s associate – found the letter in her father’s Oakland home, and last month she announced that it would go to auction through the Profiles in History auction house. The Holy Goof’s Holy Grail had been discovered.

Immediately there was a tremendous amount of speculation regarding its fate. The scroll version of On the Road was purchased by Jim Irsay in 2001 for $2.43 million, and so, given the perceived importance of the Joan Anderson Letter, it would surely fetch a sizeable sum. However, for most Beat fans, the greatest question lay in whether or not they would eventually get to read what Kerouac had claimed to be the best writing in American history – the magical 16,000 words that inspired On the Road. Cimino quickly started a crowdfunding venture in an attempt to secure its purchase for the Beat Museum. This move proved popular among online Beat communities, quickly raising more than $7,000 towards its $500,000 target, as it would place the artifact in trustworthy hands and ensure it was published rather than kept in a private collection.

Alas, perhaps predictably, both the Cassady and Kerouac estates entered into the fray and had the auction indefinitely postponed. The Kerouac estate claims ownership over the physical letter while the Cassady estate merely contends that they own the copyright to the words, while they would be content to allow Spinosa to continue with the auction. In any case, with such a large sum of money and such an important piece of literary history hanging in the balance, it is unclear what will happen. The legal situation is somewhat difficult to determine, too. Who exactly owns the letter? Cassady wrote it, but wrote it for Kerouac. It was sent to Kerouac, but Kerouac gave it away to Ginsberg. Ginsberg sent it to Golden Goose Press, and from there is ended up with Jean Spinosa… Surely, then even the Allen Ginsberg Estate has a claim for ownership of the letter!

In any case, the letter is now stuck in legal limbo until the lawyers have had their say, and we can all just hope that it is resolved amicably and with due consideration to its value as an historical document deserving of public display.

The Future

Regardless of the present situation, it would seem that the letter is invaluable, as a part of Beat history almost as important as the scroll itself. Yet Beat fans and scholars are often guilty of perpetuating myths, and in order to take the movement seriously, one needs to be critical and ask questions that are often unpleasant and now it is time that we ask whether the letter was as important as Kerouac claimed. We need to acknowledge that Kerouac’s obsession with Cassady often blinded him to his friend’s flaws, and that Cassady was far from a saint.  Indeed, it hard to imagine the contents of the letter – once published – living up to the hype. After so many years and after such a staggering twist in the tale, it truly would need to be, as Kerouac claimed, one of the best pieces of writing in American history. Yet while Kerouac touted it as of unimaginable importance, he was unable to recall even its length – placing it at 40,000 words, rather than 16,000. This is indicative of his propensity to exaggeration, and we should not so readily fall into the trap of believe his every word. Too much of Beat biography already comes from Beat fiction.

Furthermore, as Ann Charters explained, firstly in Brother-Souls and later to the New York Times, Cassady had received a letter from John Clellon Holmes only ten days prior to writing the Joan Anderson Letter. This was known as the Fay Kenney Letter, and it elicited much the same response from Cassady as Kerouac displayed to Neal’s. “Woooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo-EEEE, a real whiz of a letter!” Cassady replied to Holmes, before penning his own imitation.  Indeed, Cassady’s was not only similar in terms of content, but also in regards its style. That would then take some of the burden of responsibility off Cassady and place it on another of Kerouac’s friend, Holmes, whose own novel on the Beat Generation, Go, was published in 1953. John Tytell, in The Beat Interviews, noted that Holmes had viewed the On the Road scroll in 1951 and more or less copied the content, minus the style, for his own book. It is bizarre to think, then, that Kerouac may have inadvertently copied Holmes’ style himself, before Holmes took Kerouac’s book and dropped the style that he created… In any case, in addition to the conflated lineage of style Holmes may also be partly responsible for Kerouac’s gushing praise over the letter, as Charters suggests that Holmes’ lack of enthusiasm for Cassady’s  letter may have contributed to a childish defensiveness that pushed Kerouac further into his Cassasdy myth-making.

Joyce Johnson believes that there is altogether far too much importance placed upon the influence of Neal Cassady in Kerouac’s work – even if that largely stemmed from Kerouac’s own words. In her latest book, The Voice is All, and in an e-mail to Beatdom, she stated that Kerouac’s opus was the result of countless years of hard work, rather than simply an epiphany after reading Cassady’s letter. Such a view, she believes, is typical of a tendency to downplay Kerouac’s intelligence and ability, and she places the blame firmly at the feet of the Sampas family, whose reluctance to grant access to the archives for so many years resulted in sub-par scholarship based upon assumption and myth. She argues that Kerouac’s original versions of On the Road featured Cassady-like characters before he’d even met Cassady, and that these originated with his reading Celine’s Journey to the End of the Night in 1945. “While the Neal Cassady legend, along with the notion that Jack dashed off  OTR in only three weeks, has always fascinated Jack’s fans, it has contributed to the lack of respect for Jack’s contribution to American literature,” she points out.

Regarding the letter, Johnson explains:

Unfortunately, what gets lost in all the discussion about the importance of the letter is the real story of the many years of grueling work and abandoned trial efforts that led the way to the writing of On the Road. While Cassady definitely deserves some credit, he is given far too much, and Kerouac, as usual, is given far too little for his artistry, imagination and dedication.

Until the spring of 1951, Jack resisted writing in the first-person. All the discarded versions of OTR had omniscient third–person narrators. When he received the Joan Anderson letter in December 1950, Jack immediately felt inspired to write Neal a series of memoir-like letters about the death of his brother Gerard. But the powerful voice he unleashed in those letters had appeared before in passages in his journals–Jack had been capable for years of writing that way but had held back in his fiction. This may have had a good deal to do with his ambivalent feelings about his Franco-American identity, his determination to master his second language, which was English, and to suppress the French in which he thought. Between the summer of 1950 and the spring of 1951, one abortive version of OTR  followed another, and out of desperation Jack even attempted to write one in French. But then, in March 1951, he put OTR aside and wrote the novella La Nuit Est Ma Femme about an unsuccessful Franco-American writer named Michele Bretagne, who was never able to hold a job because of his need to write. Writing in French, in the first-person, Jack gave Bretagne a direct, conversational voice that was strikingly similar to the one he would give Sal Paradise. Having found the voice he was looking for, Jack was finally able to write OTR–a book that would incorporate some episodes and passages from discarded manuscripts.

Looking beyond its influence over Kerouac and to its importance as a piece of literature, we must also avoid being carried away by Kerouac’s enthusiasm, or Ginsberg’s, for that matter. While it was Ginsberg who leant the letter to Stern, and Ginsberg who sent it to Golden Goose, and who even called it a “masterpiece,” the poet was also of the opinion that it could not be published in its original state. It was, he believed, unfinished. He also had criticism about its use of language and sound, which he seemed to consider easily fixed. In any case, while the Beat Generation has long been associated with the notion of “first thought, best thought,” and their work characterized as hastily composed and unedited in its published form, this has been proven false, and had Ginsberg succeeded in finding a publisher for the letter, it surely would’ve been finished and fixed before going to print.

The Joan Anderson Letter is then hard to separate from the myth that has long-surrounded it. In books about the Beat Generation it is simply referred to as the letter that made everything fall into place for Kerouac, yet the scholars cannot place its word count, page count, or exact content – despite often writing as though they had studied the letter in detail. Even now that it has risen from its watery grave, it is in some ways a productive of the myth-making Beat Generation, and we need to examine it fairly and reasonably in order to give it any genuine sense of importance. From the stories Kerouac and Ginsberg spun about their friends and the hopeless praise they bestowed upon one another, to the persona Burroughs created for himself, it was a movement based upon legends which are freely parroted by biographers and journalists, and it has continued to hold sway over its readers largely for the same reason. Now that the story about its disappearance has been proven as a fiction, we must look carefully at the letter itself. Kerouac may be known as the great rememberer, but he was also rather loose with the truth, and it would be sensible to avoid further perpetuating myth by taking his words for granted. None of this means we should ignore the letter by any means, but rather that we should be skeptical and not be carried away by the excitement of its discovery.


[1] Over the years, Kerouac would compared Cassady’s writing, and in particular this letter, to Proust, Twain, Wolfe, Dostoevsky, Joyce, Celine, Thoreau, Melville, Poe, Fitzgerald, Whitman, Hemingway, and Dreiser.

[2] Carolyn Cassady, in a phrase that foreshadows the false story about the letter’s disappearance, observed that Kerouac had gone “overboard” in his praise for Cassady’s writing, and astutely observed that Kerouac simply could not see the flaws in his friend’s writing.

[3] It should be noted here, if not elsewhere, that both Kerouac and Ginsberg were tireless in heaping praise upon the work of their close friends, and terribly liberal in their use of grand comparisons to history’s finest writers.


“ . . . companionship . . . definition of literature . . .” i
Jack Kerouac

In memory of Patrick and Paul
Let me reach for another book
And another and another
Let me climb that ladder
That soars up high
As I reach for another and another book
Not any old book
But books that speak to my soul
And tell me
I have traveled this road before you
And as Thoreau said
“If it is not a tragical life we live,
then I know not what to call it”
And let us pore over the words of the immortal bard
Who wrote all those great big horrible tragedies
The great tragedian
As we become our suffering
And turn to our faithful companion,
And the books are old
And they crumble and fade
And turn to ashes
And dust
And we too return from whence we came
And finally find peace in the glory of the beatific vision

i McNally, Dennis. Desolate Angel: Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation, and America. (New York: Random House.
1979), p. 319.

Alt Lit as the New Beat Generation

Tao Lin and Jack Kerouac

“Do you think in five years the national media will create a stupid term like blogniks to describe us?”


As a scholar of the Beat Generation, the recent public attention focused on the current phenomenon known as Alt Lit has inspired in me some observations of similarities between the two literary movements. Indeed, one could provide comparisons to other movements or “generations,” but for me the similarities between these two sets of urban hipsters, sixty years apart, seems interesting.

The above quote, from Tao Lin’s novel, Shoplifting From American Apparel, shows an apparent awareness that the group of people he describes will become subject to, in the near future, the same sort of media scrutiny that was foisted upon the Beat Generation, who were derided in the press as “beatniks.”[1] Indeed, Noah Cicero, another key member of the Alt Lit community, described as central to the Alt Lit movement “the idea of the return to the literary life.” He goes on:

The literary life is about ‘living,’ like Rimbaud, Whitman, Celine, Bukowski, Hunter S. Thompson, traveling, doing drugs, partying, standing on street corners in cities and thinking crazy thoughts, taking shits in gas stations in Nebraska at 4 in the morning, going to Asia to teach English, flying over from New Zealand or England just to get drunk with people who’ve met online. Staying up till 5 in the morning talking about philosophy and politics. Making a ten-minute long YouTube video about something you can’t get off your mind. It’s that kid walking down the street with headphones playing Ladytron, carrying a laptop, and a copy of The Stranger, who just feels like this is fucked.

In referencing Rimbaud, Whitman, and Celine he is acknowledging key influences on the Beats, and in mentioning Bukowski and Thompson he is talking about writers who’ve later been categorized as “Beat” or at least in the Beat vein. His language in the description, too, is Kerouacian and Ginsbergian. He is channeling On the Road and listing like Howl, yet applying these techniques to his own generation.[2] In a word, he is placing Alt Lit as the next step.

Like the Beats, there is no real unifying style in Alt Lit. There is certainly an influence taken from Lin’s own unique voice, but Alt Lit is as diverse as the massively varying approaches taken in the Beat classics. However, there are of course elements that unite these groups, not just into social networks but also a literary framework. The Beats were categorized by their confessional prose, their drug use, and their challenging of social and sexual norms. There is, in their work, the notion that nothing is too personal or sordid to tell the world. Likewise, in Alt Lit writers like Marie Calloway and Megan Boyle document the most intimate details of their own lives, treating sexuality in a manner that would not seem out of place in a poem by Ginsberg, while Lin depicts his own drug use as matter-of-factly as William S. Burroughs.

Moreover, there is also the breaking of grammatical rules and attempts to move away from literary convention. From Kerouac’s “automatic writing” and “spontaneous prose” it is hardly a great leap to the treatment of Twitter feeds as literature, and the inclusion of Gmail chats in novels. Where the Beats took liberties with run-on sentences and attempted to imbue their narratives with the jargon of their times, so too are Alt Lit writers willing to forgo capitalization, punctuation, and embrace internet vernacular into their own prose and poetry. Rather than look back and embrace their literary forbearers, both groups sought to immortalize their own generations. The Beats and Alt Lit are united by the documentation of their own times and their almost insular literature. The Beats wrote about each other, like the Alt Lit writers, and their works stand as a biography to their times. People like Neal Cassady have become virtually household names through their depictions as characters like Dean Moriarty, and in the future we will surely remember some of the less prolific Alt Lit writers as their published alter egos.

What readers of Beat Generation literature often failed to observe is that although the Beats became known as a literary force in the mid-fifties with the publication of On the Road and the Six Gallery reading, the Beat group that is described in these works existed ten years earlier. By the time the Beats were a cultural phenomenon, the Times Square hipsters and Columbia group that made up the core of the Beat legacy had largely disbanded, and were leading lives far apart from one another. Perhaps, had Kerouac had access to Createspace and Lulu, or even a Blogger or Tumblr account, it might not have taken so long. Ginsberg, certainly, would’ve enjoyed promoting his friends’ work via Twitter and Facebook.[3]

If this essay is descending into increasingly random observations, then I apologize for what is coming next: a far-fetched comparison of various Beat and Alt Lit figures.


Tao Lin = Jack Kerouac.


Kerouac was famously the “King of the Beats,” the man whose style and philosophies were adopted and mimicked by millions of young fans. His stories documented the lifestyle of his contemporaries, and his work influenced other writers and artists.

Lin is the father of Alt Lit, and writers considered “Alt Lit”, whether by their own admission or labeled by others, are either involved with Lin on a social level, or draw heavily from his stylistic and thematic innovations.

Both men have chronicled the lives of their fellow young hipsters and the times in which they lived, and utilized the patterns of speech of their generation in order to create the definitive novels of their day. Their work has garnered the most attention to their movements, and been viewed as inspirational to their followers and contemporaries


Noah Cicero = William S. Burroughs

Although his place in literature is as part of the Beat Generation, Burroughs was only briefly part of the Beat group, and largely took off on his own. He was older than the other Beats, and following a few arrests in New York City, he went off on a decades-long journey around the world. His style deviated tremendously from those of the other Beats, and he rejected the idea that he was a part of the movement, or indeed that it ever really existed.

Cicero, while only three years older than Lin, is also like an elder to his so-called generation. Like Burroughs, is prose bears little resemblance to that of his peers, and while they seem to have maintained a relatively tight social group, Cicero wanders off to far-flung locations.[4] In many regards, these men appear set apart from their literary labels, yet their associations appear cemented.


Megan Boyle = Allen Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg was one of the most important members of the Beat Generation, promoting the work of his contemporaries tirelessly, and later ensuring the continuation of certain Beat ideas in the cultural shift to the Hippies. His poetry was intensely open and confessional, and he sometimes appeared naked on stage.

Megan Boyle wrote an essay called “Everyone I’ve Ever Had Sex With,” and is in the process of liveblogging her life. These alone make her a unique and Ginsbergian genius. Her writing is as revolutionary as her better-recognized peers, but it is only a matter of time before she is considered one of the more important poets of her era.


Steve Roggenbuck = Peter Orlovsky

Peter Orlovsky was Allen Ginsberg’s long-time lover/boyfriend/husband/partner, and his fame was largely accredited to his association with Ginsberg. However, Orlovsky was a poet himself, yet even in that capacity he was derided for his inability to spell.

Roggenbuck has become a key member of the Alt Lit community, too, in spite of his apparently lacking literary credentials. Like Orlovsky, Roggenbuck can’t or won’t spell correctly, and his editors appear content with that, allowing spelling mistakes in the titles of his books, as did Orvlosky’s. Roggenbuck is better known for his YouTube videos, wherein he often appears manic, and also his status as an Alt Lit social butterfly. These traits also place him surprisingly close in stature to Orlovsky.

[1] The term Beat has a debatable history but was popularized by John Clellon Holmes and Jack Kerouac. The suffix “-nik” was added by Herb Caen following the launch of Sputnik in order to associate the Beats with Communism.

[2] These phrasings are not arbitrary. Cicero is well-read in Beat literature, with a particular affinity for William S. Burroughs, whose work he says inspires “hope.”

[3] I’ve spoken with one of Ginsberg’s old assistants and he concurs with this notion, agreeing that Ginsberg would’ve made a thoroughly irritating Twitter-fiend.

[4] On the advice of this reporter, Cicero took a job in South Korea.

Announcing the Beatdom Podcast

I am pleased to announce that, beginning August, 2013, Beatdom will be expanding yet again into new territory. Not content with being a literary journal and publishing company whose works sell on every continent (except those bastards in Antarctica), we are taking our first steps into the audio world with the introduction of Beatdom: The Podcast.

You might well be wondering how this will function. Beatdom’s reputation at present is forged upon sterling essays published every six months. What will be included in the podcast? Why the hell should you listen in?

Let me tell you:

We are never short of Beat topics to talk about. In fact, the literary journal format is a little restricting in that it doesn’t allow us to keep entirely up to date with the news. If there’s a new book released or a new discovery made, we have to wait several months before the next issue in order to pass comment. That’s why we use our website and social media outlets to discuss, for example, film adaptations or new editions of Beat texts. I believe that the podcast, which will be released fortnightly (that means every two weeks), will allow us to stay on top of all the news from the Beat realm.

So, every fortnight we will start with a roundup of Beat news, before moving into tackling a question. For the first episode, we will be asking a deceptively difficult question: “What does ‘Beat’ mean?” It’s something that everyone has a different opinion about, and I want to hear from our readers prior to the show. On air, I will read out various tweets and comments from Facebook and the website, as well as adding my own thoughts, and I will discuss the topic with another Beatdom editor, Michael Hendrick.

It is important for us to interact with our readers, and so in addition to reading your comments on air, we will also be seeking to answer your questions. If there’s something you want to know about the Beat Generation, or about Beatdom, or anything within reason, please get in touch via e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or this website’s comment boards. We will try our best to answer your question.

In addition to this, we will be adding an extra dimension to our poetry publication by having poets read out their work. As we know, poetry is not intended solely for the page. It is also performance art, and this podcast will allow Beatdom to better showcase its talent. We are also looking for musicians to accompany these poets. For the first episode, we will be featuring the poetry of G.K. Stritch, whose work has previously appeared on our website.

Finally, we will conduct interviews for each episode. The interviewee will contribute by discussing the question du jour as well as contributing their thoughts on the breaking Beat news, and of course we will talk to them about their own projects. For our first episode, we will be speaking with Charles Cannon, the sci-fi writer and collage artist who’s in charge of organizing the Burroughs 100 celebration – a year long catalogue of events to mark the centenary of William S. Burroughs’ birth.

Beatdom 12 ~ The Crime Issue ~ Coming Soon!!!

Yes, friends, Beatdom Issue Twelve is on it’s way and today we unveil the cover, featuring the lovely Zeena Schreck – who was kind enough to contribute this wonderful photo for the cover, as well as a short monologue (meant for stage) which she wrote at about the same time the photo was taken.

“I thought they’d compliment each other in a film-noirish type way, for a crime-theme. I hope you like it,” she says and we hope that you enjoy her work, too. Zeena and Nikolas Schreck have been great contributors since they joined us, and we are always delighted with what they have to share with us.

Issue Twelve will be another jam-packed issue, featuring interviews with Patti Smith, Amiri Baraka and Joyce Johnson and a close look at the first person to publish a piece of Beat Literature, John Clellon Holmes. He is featured in a review of the great biography/period non-fiction book on University of Missisippi Press, Brother-Souls by Ann Charters and Samuel Charters.

There are plenty of other great contributions pouring in but there is still time for you to send something, if you have a Beat-tinged piece on crime, or even a Beat-related bit of work. We are happy to look at your submissions. Deadline is in two weeks on November 1.

Beatdom 12 should roll off the presses in the first weeks of December, so save some cash in that holiday budget of yours to get a nice present for yourself!

Cover photo: Max Kobal/Copyright: Zeena Schreck.
Graphic Design: Waylon Bacon

Something New! Beatdom Book Club Discussion Group – “Brother-Souls”

When we interviewed Ann Charters in our current issue, Beatdom Eleven, she brought up the relationship between Jack Kerouac and John Clellon Holmes and the importance of Holmes in the evolution of the seminal style, syntax and spirit of Beat Literature, as demonstrated by Kerouac’s daily digestion of each page as Holmes’ novel, Go.

Here is a slice of that interview…
Ann Charters – “I can understand (Alene) Lee’s anger at Kerouac after he appropriated her story in The Subterraneans (though at the request of Grove Press she signed a paper giving her consent). What he did to his friend John Clellon Holmes in that autobiographical novel was much worse: Kerouac portrayed Holmes as such a wimpy rival that the literary portrait trapped him for eternity as “the quiet Beat” just as a fly is trapped in amber. Sam and I tried to redress that wrong in our recent biography Brother-Souls: John Clellon Holmes, Jack Kerouac, and the Beat Generation. It was a difficult book to write, but one of its pleasures was the opportunity to give Holmes back his voice as a writer who was an enormous influence on Kerouac during the years 1948 to 1951, especially in Jack’s creation of the “scroll” version of On the Road.
I don’t think I should have written more about Alene Lee in my early biography (Kerouac, 1973), because she didn’t play a major role in Jack’s life. Much later when I found out from the English Beat scholar Oliver Harris that she had typed the manuscript of Burroughs and Ginsberg’s The Yage Letters, I included that information in Brother-Souls to give her credit.
But I wish I had known more about Holmes’ long friendship with Kerouac when I wrote the
biography, because Holmes was a major influence and he deserves much more credit for his role as a Beat novelist, poet, and historian. Certainly Holmes’ memoir Nothing More to Declare and his novel Go are major achievements in the Beat literary canon. Jack read every chapter of Go as it left John’s typewriter, and it helped break the emotional log-jam that prevented him from writing about his road trips with Neal Cassady.”

This caught our interest so we were very pleased at the arrival of Brother-Souls in the old Beat Mailbox. A full review of this terrific work will appear in the next issue of Beatdom…Issue Twelve, The Crime Issue.The thing is – the book is much more that what we expected, so we are reading slowly and savoring. Instead of a basic nuts-and-bolts account of the facts, this is a volume that reads with the excitement of any of the best Beat novels. Though more factually forward and to the point than the diamond-hard poetic styles of description which infused On The Road, Go, The Dharma Bums, etc., we still get the adventures, the substance of an era frozen in time, and all the usual suspects – and then some!
Before we even arrived at chapter one, the three page prologue dazzled us with an array of “Who’s Who In Hip”…we come across the names of the Velvet Underground, The Fugs, Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, Ed Saunders, Diane di Prima, Andy Warhol, Charles Olson, Peter Orlovski, Anne Waldman, Timothy Leary…even W.H. Auden walks through to buy a newspaper…Will they all show up eventually? Perhaps not all of them but it certainly grabbed our interest immediately.
By force of habit, we opened the book to a random page to see what we found and, there on page 179, we have Neal Cassady sending Holmes, in the words of the former, “Wooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo-EEEE! A real whiz of a letter” in his typical ebullience! What more can you look for in a quick introduction to the text?
If you are reading this post you are probably on this site for a reason – to learn about, celebrate or simply enjoy that which is Beat Culture and Literature. To that end, we suggest you go out to a store, click on, break out the Kindle – however you prefer to do it – get yourself a copy of Brother-Souls and read it. When we went to our local library to see if we could get a copy, we couldn’t. Utilizing the inter-library loan service, we were shocked to find that not a single public library in the State of Pennsylvania had a copy.
That is just pathetic.
So, if you are used to getting reading materials and books at the local branch and they do not have it, or are not aware of it here is all the information they need to order a copy…
Give them the information and don’t cut them any slack if they argue!

Brother-Souls: John Clellon Holmes, Jack Kerouac, and the Beat Generation
By Ann Charters and Samuel Charters
University Press of Mississippi
ISBN 978-1-60473-579-6, hardback, $35
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If they can afford multiple copies of that Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, let them know they can get something besides that sort of drivel for your tax dollar. This is literary history and it belongs in any and every self-respecting library!

Before Issue Twelve appears with the full review, we will post a short version of Brother-Souls on this site. We would love to open up a discussion and have you send us your comments. If you already read it, please post a comment and start a forum here. For the fun of it, please include the city and country you are writing from.
If you have to give the clerk at Barnes and Noble a hard time to get your copy, tell us about that, too! Let’s all read a great book together and have some fun doing it. If you like, we can have discussions on other books in the future.
What do you say?
Be there or be square!!!

The Nature of Beatdom Issue 11 (with lots of photos)

Dear Readers,
We certainly hope that you like to look at pictures – because this is about as many as we think we can squeeze into a single post.

The idea is to show that, while the ebook and kindle formats are handy, Beatdom is still fun to have your own personal copy of, like in the old days of the literary journal, when you stuck it in your pocket or bag and pulled it out to read while on the bus, at the doctor’s office or in a crowded movie theater while some delinquent threw JuJubes in your hair.

While we all know you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, anybody who is familiar with French poet Arthur Rimbaud and the poem, ‘After The Deluge,’ from his earth-shattering collection ‘Illuminations,’ will spot him right away, That is thanks to the keen handiwork of multi-faceted artist Waylon Bacon, who graced the front cover of this issue with his brilliant dexterity and use of color.

It is a treat to get to see him do something for us in deep rich tones, since he has had to restrain himself to using black and white ever since we changed the format to that of the classic, standard old-style 6×9-inch black and white format, used by most literary journals.

In the following story by Katy Gurin, ‘Grizzly Bear,’ you can see more of Waylon’s work, only in the b/w format. This is still another excellent short story by Katy, about what can happen when people commune a little too closely with nature. This tale showcases her usual splendid imagination and wonderful gift for detail. Stuck in between there, shown on the back cover, since most people look at the front and back before opening it, is the advertisement for the next fiction release from Beatdom Books, ‘Egypt Cemetery,’ a memoir by Editor Michael Hendrick, which will be available soon at the usual outlets.

It is also worth noting that Katy will be publishing a full volume of her short stories with Beatdom Books, later this year. That volume will be illustrated by Waylon, since the two of them make such a great team for two people who have never even met each other. As Katy’s story continues the partygoers dressed as bears start to act more like bears just for the drunken fun of it.

Waylon not only provided the fine images you see here – but also managed to include some of his favorite monsters, like Frankenstein’s monster, his Bride, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Phantom of the Opera, and some weird looking what-cha-ma-callits, that only he sees when he closes his eyes at night.

Bears like to catch fish but fishtank owners are not always appreciative. As you can see, our half-drunk pseudo-bears wander out into the Halloween night and do all the things bears are wont to do, until they are confronted by a real bear. How Katy thinks this stuff up is a mystery to us but we have been lucky enough to have her writing such inventive stories with truly absorbing plots since she was kind enough to provide us with her very first and fabulous yarn, ‘Meat From Craigslist,’ back in Issue Number Nine.

Next we have a look at the life of William S. Burroughs during his days as a farmer, written by Editor David S. Wills. Burroughs didn’t do so well working the land but Mr. Wills has been farming up quite a bit of information on the pistol-happy author while lurking about the Burroughs Archives at the New York City Public Library lately. Watch for more!

Somehow, archaeologist, activist and Beatdom regular Robin Como managed to find time to write two more of her intoxicatingly exquisite poems for your pleasure and if she doesn’t run away, we hope to have her back with more in our next issue!

Michael Hendrick tracked down Shelton Hank Williams, aka Hank Williams III, aka Hank3, on Thanksgiving Day morning last year, forcing him to hold a copy of Beatdom Issue Nine and interviewing him on topics ranging from going to Hell, to how his grandfather wrote one of the first recorded rock songs before rock’n’roll was invented, to the Right to Bear Arms.

Taking time out from his extensive studies, returning writer Rory Feehan penned this account of still another famous sharp-shooter, Hunter S. Thompson and his ventures and misadventures while living a not so quiet existence at perhaps California’s favorite Beat retreat, Big Sur.

While everybody was awaiting the release of the film version of Jack Kerouac’s ‘On The Road,’ Mr. Wills tracked down the last remaining live male character depicted in the movie, Al Hinkle, who Kerouac called Ed Dunkel in the book. Mr. Hinkle is delighted to appear here.

Assistant Editor Kat Hollister, who labored intensively to help put this issue together marked her first appearance in Beatdom with the poem you see below; her efforts were rewarded by the dubious distinction of having it placed across from a poem by returning Beat literate Chuck Taylor, on the dodgy subject of his erection. Mr. Taylor dug up the old form of ‘doggerel’ to justify it, along with the fact that we are the only journal who would risk publishing it.

Where have you seen this face before? On the cover, it’s Arthur Rimbaud again, next to an essay by poet Larry Beckett, who takes apart the aforementioned poem, ‘After The Deluge.’ It is an insightful look at one of Rimbaud’s best know works, and also gives us a glimpse at the fantastic style of literary critique to be found in Mr. Beckett’s upcoming offering from Beatdom Books, ‘Beat Poetry.’

Matthew Levi Stevens is a new name to Beatdom readers and here he presents us with a review of the latest collection of letters written by William S. Burroughs when he was still living as an expatriate.

Kat Hollister, following the indignity of having her poem placed facing Mr. Taylor’s doggerel, was happy to find a spot next to this wonderful photograph, ‘wetlands in march no.2,’ by well-known nature photographer, g. thompson higgins.

Artist/Photographer/Musician and Writer, Zeena Schreck returned again this issue, with this touching and enlightening article. She writes of how she and multi-talented husband, Nikolas Schreck, stepped up and acted to save the lives of eighty wolves, diverting their carriage to safe habitat as they were being sent to an otherwise slow and cruel death.

Ann Charters, a name familiar to everybody in the world of Beat Literature and Literary History spoke with Mr. Hendrick, on working with Kerouac, the beginnings of Beat, her meeting with Alene Lee and the importance of John Clellon Holmes to the Beat Generation.

Internationally renowned poet Michael Shorb, a strong voice on environmental issues, was kind enough to grace our pages with this, his first appearance in Beatdom.

Reaching past Rimbaud to William Blake, Mr. Wills weighs in with a quick word on the literary influence of one of the most visionary of voices and his influence on the Beats.

When we think of Beat we think of the road and it is hard to think of a band who pounded the pavement harder than the Ramones. Richie Ramone, the fastest of the fast, spoke with Mr. Hendrick about life on the road, his forays into the Big Band sounds of the Drum Gods and his activism on behalf of pooches in peril in Los Angeles.

As usual, Waylon won’t go back into his cage until he gets one last bite on the hand the doesn’t feed him, so we leave you with him and his now traditional ‘last page, last word.’ This one, Waylon aptly titled ‘Sometimes Eye Gets Crazy!’

The Wild, Weird, Wacked, Warped, Whimsical Wonder of Waylon Bacon!

The creation is almost done. He makes a few adjustments to his equipment, then fiddles with some gadgets. The air is static and the storm rages. Sparks fly and the energy is frightening. Ygor hides in the shadows, watching him and giggling maniacally at what is about to be set loose upon the unsuspecting world. Sweat rolls down his forehead, what appears to be a grimace is suddenly changed to a smile as the corners of his mouth turn, trembling upward into a demonic smile. Tension mounts. The lightning strikes. Sparks fly.
His eyes widen in a cross between dementia and joy.
“It’s alive,” he says softly.
“It’s alive,” he repeats, voice raising in horrific excitement.
“It’s alive!” he shouts, raising his fists, as if to challenge God in his demonic triumph!
It’s alive!!!!

Seen this before? Then you were probably in the studio of Waylon Bacon, Beatdom‘s own beloved illustrator who has helped bring issue after issue to life with his drawings, illustrations and the marvelous cover art he produced for the cover of our latest issue; the colorful image/interpretation of the classic Arthur Rimbaud poem, “After the Flood.” You thought we we referring to Colin Clive in Frankenstein, and we may just as well have been, given Waylon’s predisposition to horror, zombies, drooling ghouls and famous monsters of the film world.

Our talented Mr. Bacon is a true modern Renaissance Man. Besides his delightful work in Beatdom, he has established himself as a well-respected and renowned filmmaker; amazing his fans regularly with screenings at the San Francisco Underground Short Film Festival, the Berkeley Short Film Festival, the Comic Con International Film Festival, the B Movie Underground & Trash Film Festival in the Netherlands, and the Fright Night Horror Film Festival in Louisville, Kentucky. He is currently working on filming his first foray into the music video realm, which can be a horror in itself, and also is a regular monthly contributor to Cinesource Magazine, with cartoons on the subject of filmmaking.

Any true fan of the horror film genre is familiar with FANGORIA (the First in Fright since 1979) and the magazine’s David Pace interviewed Waylon last year. On the big screen, Waylon’s first notable effort was his storyboarding and conceptualization for the 2012 flick Excision, which not only went on to play at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, but which also includes appearances by such well-known names as Traci Lords, Malcolm McDowell, Marlee Matlin and the most awesome John Waters…acting out scenes originally sketched by Waylon!

While we do not have any of his horror-related work on hand to show you, it can easily be found on his website,, which has a little misinformation about Beatdom on it, but we have to forgive him for that or else he may bite us in the neck! No one-trick-pony, his work is magificently detailed, as seen on the cover of our latest, Issue Eleven, where anybody familiar with classic French poetry can spot the image of Rimbaud from across a crowded room and identify the subject. Another example of his fine eye for detail is this terrific illustration of Lenny Bruce, which he produced for our Issue Ten.

Look at the fine detail. Note the covers of Lenny’s albums in the background, painstakingly copied to perfection by his coffee-stained fingers. It is a truly remarkable piece of art, and how could you expect anything less? We have paired him up with our short story writers, and in doing so, all readers, especially readers of the print edition where you can truly see the magnificence of his craft, get to experience images such as the one below.

From our talented Katy Gurin’s story, “Meat From Craigslist”:

Here is another from the same story…

Or this one, from “Forever Stung,” a short story by Beatdom Editor Michael Hendrick…

We could go on forever because his body of work is so voluminous for a man his age, but we highly recommend that you go to to view his short films there and look at his other work. View his films: Help Wanted, My Worst Nightmare, Bob and Poster Boy. Marvel at his work. As Bad Lit: The Journal of Underground Film said, “When it comes to creating sickening nightmares, it’s hard to top San Francisco-based filmmaker Waylon Bacon.”

And so we leave you with one final piece from Beatdom, where we have given Waylon the last page of every issue to do whatever he wants. It is a more serious piece from Issue Ten, the Religion Issue. We posted this to let you all know that Waylon is not the creepy, ghoulish, horrific, frightening, insanely maniacal, drunken drug addict that he appears to be – we set the record straight on that – he does NOT take drugs.

Beatdom wishes Waylon the best in all of his endeavors, but we like the ones he does for us the best!

AFTERWORD: Well, folks, when we wrote this post we did not have any of Waylon’s color work available. As you all know, Beatdom assumed the format of more traditional literary journals starting with Issue Nine, and these next couple images are from a short story by the esteemed educator, photographer and writer, Chuck Taylor. While the traditional format is handier and fits in a pocket or handbag, we do miss seeing the work of Waylon in color. While his art is incomparable and uniquely original, we like to think that his color work evokes the spirit of a demented Walt Disney channeling through R. Crumb…but the style is really 100% Waylon Bacon.

We offer these samples for your guaranteed enjoyment. They appeared in Beatdom Issue Eight, the Sex Issue, complimenting Mr. Taylor’s great story, “Whores Who Were My Friends.”
We trust you will dig these!

The first is titled Sex For Free and the second is Hundred Dollars.

Submissions Now Open for Nature Issue

As we move towards our 5th anniversary (that’s in May, folks, get ready to celebrate!) Beatdom is putting together its eleventh issue. The theme of this upcoming issue is Nature. That’s right, another fairly obvious topic, following on from Drugs and Religion. Granted, this one is a bit less controversial, but it is nonetheless a topic on which we could take any number of approaches.

As usual, we are primarily seeking essays. The rule of thumb in regards Beatdom submissions is this: Essays get read first. That doesn’t mean we don’t care about poems and stories; but essays take up the bulk of the magazine. We appreciate each and every submission, but we have to prioritize.

So, we imagine you probably have your own ideas for what to write about, but if not, here are some starters:


  • Kerouac’s time in the wilderness
  • Gary Snyder
  • The Beats as an urban movement?
  • Ginsberg and Burroughs’ trips into the jungle
  • The influence of nature upon Beat poetics
  • Environmentalism in literature


And of course there are many, many more. Please let us know asap what you are planning to submit in order to avoid having all our writers covering the same topic.

If you are planning to submit poetry, fiction, or art, please don’t feel left out. Your submissions are welcome. Be warned, though: the “slush pile” of poetry submissions is massive. We can’t guarantee a reply to these submissions unless we plan on using your poem in the magazine. All submissions, whether fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or otherwise, should ideally concern the topic of Nature.


For all submissions, please be professional. Include a cover letter with some short biographical details, a little about what you are submitting and why, and your submission as an attachment. If you send a blank e-mail with an attachment, or something like “heres what i just rote dude im sure u dig it”, then your submission will not be read. If your submission is comprised mostly of typos, it will also probably go unanswered.

Sorry to throw down so many rules, but as Beatdom grows, so does the number of submissions received, and the task of editing the magazine grows ever more difficult. Rest assured, we do appreciate everyone who shows interest in the magazine.

All submissions to the usual address: editor [at] beatdom [dot] com. Deadline: April 1st (no foolin’).

What Can Be Learned from Charles Bukowski

by Izzy Woods

On the peripheral edge of the Beat Movement sits Charles Bukowski. Lauded as all manner of things from the “laureate of American lowlife” to a “pulp fiction professional”, Bukowski’s style and indeed, volume of work makes him appealing. With thousands of poems, hundreds of stories and six novels under his belt, there’s definitely a lot to be learnt from Bukowski’s methods, however harebrained they may seem in hindsight. Of course, drinking yourself into oblivion and sleeping with anything that moves is not the answer to becoming the darling of the fiction writing but Bukowski’s appeal is in the believable, genuine and portrays a sect of society that is rarely considered honestly in literature. Here’s a few things that a reader or even a budding writer can learn from one of America’s greatest novelists, whether applying them to your literary life or otherwise.

The first thing that can be learnt from Bukowski and his writings is persistence. His first novel wasn’t published until he was nearly 50. Previous to this, he had had a couple of stories published in his mid-twenties but then found his work rejected every time. It looked like he’d basically given up but in the fifties he started up again and began submitting hundreds and hundreds of stories and poems to different publications. Despite this, it still took years to find success but nothing stopped his commitment to writing. Bear in mind, Bukowski’s personal life was far from rosy, as he passed through tens of jobs, sunk deeper into his alcoholism and three feisty wives. Bukowski’s poem ‘so you wanna be a writer’ is a testament to the reasons behind his commitment.

The next thing is honesty. Bukowski is a candid and at times, painfully honest writer whose first four novels are almost direct parallels with his own personal life, using his literary double Henry Chinaski. The attitudes he gives to his protagonist are basically mirrors of his own and as he discusses in depth his neglectful parents, his apathetic approach to work and his love of prostitutes and lack of respect for women, the real man behind the words is created. In his poetry there are many direct references to particular individuals or groups he hates and by being honest, Bukowski’s narratives are believable and entertaining. Fiction is naturally about creating myths and making stuff up but Bukowski uses the stuff he knows to good effect, creating a wholly different an enjoyable form of literature.

Everyone can also learn from Bukowski’s discipline. Every day he would write, his first novel Post Office (1971) catalogues the endless ten to twelve hour shifts which were then followed by several packs of beer and quarts of whiskey and then, the writing began. This was his routine of sorts throughout the whole of his working life and the discipline allowed him to get to the published state that he did. Before turning to writing he used this discipline to discover and explore his love for literature. Hours spent in the library getting to know the greats and forming his opinions on them. Through this time he was able to shape and find his own voice and it’s the first tip for all writers that to be able to be successful, you must first read voraciously.  Bukowski was never one to sit back and relax in his reading recliner, he worked endlessly to achieve the results he ended up with.

The final area in which Bukowski can be learnt from is by studying what you could call his ‘literary map’. This simply means seeing exactly how Bukowski drew upon influences of others and in turn became an influence, continuing the evolving development of literature. Throughout his work, Bukowski is explicit in his descriptions of his personal influences namely Norwegian Knut Hamsun, of Hunger fame, French author Céline and John Fante, the Italo-American author of Ask the Dust. Fante is probably most influential to Bukowski’s work as he too works in a semi-autobiographical way talking about the same LA areas. The scores of authors since Bukowski whose work shows elements of his style are numerous and although some may have done little more than offend him personally, all are a testament to his literary map.

Charles Bukowski was never integral to the Beat Movement and was very much on its edge but he moved in many of the same circles and knew those involved personally. Despite his many foibles (if that isn’t too weak a word) Bukowski produced a catalogue of work to be admired and an attitude which all can learn from.