Beat News

The Joan Anderson Letter Goes to Auction

Almost two years ago the world of Beat studies was rocked by the discovery of a seemingly lost piece of history: the fabled Joan Anderson Letter. Written by Neal Cassady and sent to Jack Kerouac, the letter played a pivotal role in American literary history, only to supposedly be lost overboard into the cold Pacific Ocean.

It entered Beat lore as Kerouac labeled it the best piece of writing he ever read, and Allen Ginsberg testified to this. Cassady’s style in the letter impacted Kerouac’s own writing, and the rest was history. Along came On the Road, the Beats and beatniks, the hippies, Bob Dylan, and the whole counterculture that followed on…

The letter, however, had not been dropped into the sea but sent to a publisher’s office, where it remained unnoticed for decades. It was eventually discovered in 2012 and put up for auction in 2014, only to be struck down when the Kerouac and Cassady estates both put in a claim for ownership. Now all three parties have agreed to an arrangement, and the letter will be auctioned at Christies, where it is expected to fetch between $400,000 and $600,000 – although some are calling that a decidedly low estimate.

Read more about the Joan Anderson Letter here.

Here’s the discussion at the Beat Museum from 2014, shortly after its rediscovery. It features Gerd Stern, who supposedly lost the letter after Ginsberg lent it to him.

David S. Wills

David S. Wills is the founder and editor of Beatdom literary journal and the author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs the Weird Cult and World Citizen: Allen Ginsberg as Traveller. His next book, High White Notes: The Rise and Fall of Gonzo Journalism comes out in November, 2021.

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