In 2014, the world of Beat Studies was rocked by the discovery of the Joan Anderson letter. Believed lost at sea until that point, the letter was the Holy Grail of our field. Its role in Beat history was considered by many as of key importance. Its influence on the literary style of Jack Kerouac was believed to be massive. More than two years ago, its existence was announced to the world, and soon after it went to auction. However, its ownership was contested, and so it was withdrawn. Last year, in May, it went up for auction at Christie’s, where it was expected to fetch about a half million dollars. The joint parties – the Kerouac estate, Cassady estate, and Spinosa – had come to an agreement that would allow it to be sold. However, its reserve price was not met, and the letter did not sell.
It is now back on the market and bidding commences on February 17th, continuing until March 8th.
Here’s hoping that whoever purchases the letter will allow it to be accessed by Beat scholars or published for the public to read. Beat scholars like myself are eager to pore over this legendary artifact and assess its significance. Was it really as important as Kerouac claimed?
“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.”
– Jack Kerouac
In the late spring of 1939, Weldon Kees, his wife Ann, and his parents, John…