Monday, April 8, 2013

Historic Collection Of Kerouac Letters Offered At $1,250,000

by Stephen J. Gertz

From "Old Sam Kerouac."

"To think that all that crazy stuff I’ve written 
since 1951 in a way started when you casually suggested, in Chinese restaurant on Amsterdam and 124th, remember? to try “sketching,” which I did, and it led to discovery of modern spontaneous prose" (March 1, 1965).

A highly significant and awe-inspiring archive of sixty-three intimate letters written 1947-1969 by Beat novelist and author of On the Road, Jack Kerouac, to his close friend, Edward White of Denver, Colorado, whom he met in 1946 in New York as a fellow Columbia University undergraduate and who inspired Kerouac's prose-style, has come into the marketplace. Mostly unpublished and seen for the first time, the letters, typed and autograph with some postcards, are being offered by Glenn Horowitz, Bookseller, of New York City.


“And the other book is the On the Road idea...
I’ll get a new title for it like
The Hipsters or  
The Gone Ones or The Furtives, or perhaps 
even The Illegals. A study of the new 
Neal-like generation of honkytonk nights.”
(January 15, 1949).

"The White collection is probably the last foundational Kerouac correspondence that will appear in the market," Horowitz told Booktryst.  It is being tendered en bloc for $1,250,000.


“Well, boy, guess what?
 I sold my novel to 
Harcourt Brace – 
(after one rejection from Little, Brown) 
– and got a $1,000 advance. 
Mad? – I tell you it’s mad. 
Mad? – me mad? Heh heh heh.”
(March 29, 1949, re: The Town and the City)

New York Times reporter, former editor-in-chief of Details, and original columnist at Spin magazine. John Leland, author of 2007's Why Kerouac Matters: The Lessons of 'On the Road' (They're Not What You Think), has provided a lengthy and insightful Introduction to the collection's catalogue.


“While all this is happening my star is rising,
and it’s an awful feeling.”

(April 29, 1949)

He writes:

"The two exchanged at least 87 letters and postcards, starting in July 1947 – the month that began Kerouac’s travels in On the Road – and continuing until August 1969, two months before Kerouac’s death at age 47. Over the course of this correspondence their relationship evolves and contradicts itself, as friendships do, in response to the needs pressing on the two men. What they shared was the male restlessness and self-exploration of the postwar years, along with a love of literature and their own fundamental questions: What sort of men did they want to become – what model of lovers or patriarchs, with what voices to convey their visions, their art. 


"And in this letter you’ll see all the wild thoughts
of a buddy 3,000 miles away who sits in his room
at midnight, madly drinking coffee and smoking,
typing away faster than he can think.

"And don’t I love to talk about myself.
What a gigantic loneliness this all is."

(May 9, 1949)

"Since Kerouac didn’t like the telephone, and since the two men were often in different places, their letters provided a lasting stage on which to try out their future personae. White pursued painting, literature, and teaching before ultimately settling on architecture; Kerouac continued to search for the voice that best captured the life in his head. Each played a part in the other’s search."

Ed White was fictionalized as "Tim Gray" in On the Road.


“I’ve written 86,000 words 
almost finishing On The Road...
(April 20, 1951)

You need a glossary to identify the parade of people Kerouac mentions within the correspondence, some obvious - William Burroughs, John Clennon Holmes, Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg - and others not so obvious who wound up as characters in On the Road: Beverly Buford ("Babe Rawlins"), Bob Buford ("Ray Rolands"), Lucien Carr ("Damion"), Jason Brierly ("Denver D. Doll"), Hal Chase ("Chad King"), Frank Jefferies ("Stan Shephard"), and Allan Temko ("Roland Major"). And so brief biographies of each person who appears in the letters have been provided in the catalogue.

Others who Kerouac discusses include Joyce Glassman (later Joyce Johnson), Kerouac's sister Caroline, his mother Gabrielle, and his ex-wife, Edie Parker. 


“Burroughs is in town, is a big celebrity
among the subterraneans.”
(August 31, 1953)

In short, everyone who mattered to Kerouac and played a role in his life and writing is found in these letters, a majestic trove. 


“Of late I’ve been lamenting anew our 
late beloved master Doctor Samuel Johnson, 
reading him at lezzure in the hot
Florida sunshine of my yard 

– and gadzooks whatta man!”
(August 7, 1961)

Collection Catalog.

I asked Horowitz, who has an uncanny knack for scoring the work of famous writers - he represented David Mamet, Norman Mailer, Don Delillo, John Cheever, R. Buckminster Fuller, Spaulding Gray, Woody Guthrie, Hunter S. Thompson, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut, Vladimir Nabokov, etc., when they or their estates wished to sell their archives, and sold Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's Watergate notebooks in 2003 for $5,000,000 - how he got involved with this outstanding collection, an important piece of the puzzle that was Kerouac, a man who was "like a set of chord changes waiting for another musician to blow a chorus over it" (Leland).

"I started talking with Ed White in Denver twenty-five years ago," he told me, "a long patient negotiation that has led to this memorable catalogue prepared by our associate Heather Pisani.  


“ English is the grooviest language!”
(February 9, 1962)

"The project has, for our firm, a poignant quality: the White-Kerouac archive was the final major project that our colleague John McWhinnie oversaw.  It was John's vision for what we could do with the archive that, finally, persuaded the Whites to work with us. In many ways, this catalogue is a tribute to John, who will always be missed by those who were blessed to work with him." 

And by those in the trade who were fortunate to know him, this writer included. 

The catalogue, which includes commentary on each letter by Ed White and is collectible in its own right, is available for $25 and can be ordered here.

1 comment:

  1. a great mad collection of letters from the man who wanted to be known...but not as The Daddy of The Beat Generation.


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