A letter that inspired Jack Kerouac to write the American classic “On the Road” has been acquired by Emory University’s Rose Library. The 19-page typed letter was written by Beat author Neal Cassady and sent to Kerouac in 1950, according to The New York Times.
The letter was acquired at Heritage Auctions in Dallas March 2016 for $206,250, according to the auctioneer’s website. Emory received external financial support, Rose Library Director Rosemary Magee said, adding that “getting this letter [is] extraordinary” because it adds to the library’s preexisting Kerouac collection.
In 1968, Kerouac told the “Paris Review” that this letter was “the greatest piece of writing [he] ever saw.” He also credited the letter with inspiration for the stream-of-consciousness style that he later used in “On the Road.” The piece is most commonly known as the Joan Anderson Letter, named after a woman with whom Kerouac shared a romantic history.
Previously, the letter was believed to have been dropped off a houseboat by Allen Ginsberg, a friend of Kerouac’s, and lost forever. Ginsberg had actually sent the letter to a publisher who left the piece unopened for several years. In 2014, it was found and opened before being claimed for ownership by the estates of both Cassady and Kerouac. The parties ultimately reached a settlement, and the letter was sent to an auction house.
The letter is now on display in the Schatten Gallery on the third floor of Robert W. Woodruff Library as part of the new exhibition, “The Dream Machine: The Beat Generation and the Counterculture, 1940-1975,” which opened Sept. 28. Other possessions of Beat-generation writers, such as Brion Gysin and Ginsberg, are also on display until May 15.
After the exhibition ends, the letter will remain a permanent part of the Rose Library collections. In the future, Magee said the letter will be available to students interested in researching its creation and its eccentric author.