The original letter which inspired Jack Kerouac’s On the Road will star in an upcoming rare books sale at Heritage Auctions.
The letter was written by Neal Cassady, the almost-mythical counterculture figure who was immortalized as Dean Moriarty in Kerouac’s seminal Beat Generation novel.
The 16,000 word letter, in which Cassady describes his highly complicated love life, was written to Kerouac during a three-day Benzedrine high and became known as the ‘Joan Anderson Letter’.
Kerouac described the letter simply as "the greatest piece of writing I ever saw".
The pair had previously spent the past three years travelling across America, and Kerouac had been struggling to find the right form in which to tell the story. But Cassady’s free-form rambling letter inspired him, and he later wrote On the Road on a single roll of paper during an intensive three-week burst of creativity.
Kerouac later described to The Paris Review how it had influenced his seminal novel:
"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 in his case, however (being letters)."
Kerouac loaned the letter to his friend, poet Alan Ginsberg, who in turn attempted to find a publisher for it, but the letter disappeared and passed into literary folklore over the course of 60 years.
It was believed lost forever until 2012, when it was discovered amongst the archive papers of Golden Goose Press, a long-defunct San Francisco publisher.
The letter, which has never been published in its entirety, will now cross the auction block in New York with an estimated price of more than $100,000.
"Original literary material of any kind by Cassady is virtually unknown in the market and in the auction archives," said the auction house.
"This offering presents a unique opportunity to acquire an original typescript of soaring literary significance, and a foundational document in the history of beat literature and its ensuing influence on the Beat Generation."
The Heritage Auctions Rare Books Signature Auction takes place in New York on March 8.