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Selected letters, 1957-1969 /
Jack Kerouac ; edited with an introduction and commentary by Ann Charters.
New York : Viking, c1999.
xxvii, 514 p.
More Details
added author
New York : Viking, c1999.
general note
Includes index.
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A Look Inside
First Chapter

Chapter One


By the first week of January 1957, while living at his sister Caroline's new house in Orlando, Florida, Kerouac had put what he considered the finishing touches on On the Road for his editors Malcolm Cowley and Keith Jennison at the Viking Press. Concerned about the possibiliy of obscenity and libel suits, theft had insisted that Kerouac revise the book before theft signed a contract, Working on the porch where his sister had set up his typewriter on his old rolltop desk, Jack also retyped pages of The Subterraneans and completed the typescript of a new novel, Deso- lation Angels.

    In a creative fever Kerouac had completed eleven books of prose and poetry in the last six years, chapters of what he called "the endless Duluoz Legend," the written record of his life. When Howl and Other Poems was published in May 1956, Allen Ginsberg listed the titles in his dedication of the book to Neal Cassady, William S. Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac, "new Buddha of American prose, who spit forth intelligence into eleven books written in half the number of years (1951-1956)-0n the Road, Visions of Neal, Dr Sax, Springtime Mary, The Subterraneans, San Francisco Blues, Some of the Dharma, Book of Dreams, Wake Up, Mexico City Blues, and Visions of Gerard- creating a spontaneous bop prosody and original classic literature.... All these books are published in Heaven." Now it was time for Kerouac's manuscripts, written "in desolation & solitude," as he told his friend Helen Weaver, to be published on earth.

     During the early days of 1957, Jack wrote two anxious letters to his agent, Sterling Lord, with detailed instructions about handling his manuscripts. Lord had loaned Kewouac forty dollars against his Viking advance to buff Christmas presents for his family. When Jack couldn't get another loan fom his agent to pay for a bus ticket to New York City so that he could deliver On the Road to his editors at Viking and sign a contract for the book, his mother, Gabrielle, gave him the fare.


[Card postmarked January 1, 1957

Orlando, Florida]

Dear Sterling-

    I understand how you're low-fortunately I'll get fare from G.-the ms. of ROAD is all ready for the printer, please tell Keith and Malcolm to have complete confidence in the libel-clearing thorough job I did on it ... they will be pleased ... I imagine they'll want to see it first, I'll show it them on Jan. 8 ... I am typing up the new novel DESOLATION ANGELS1 (rich, good) ... Have you located "cityCityCITY" and TRISTESSA mss.? I have to add to them .... Till I see you, as ever,



Sat Jan. 5, 1957

[Orlando, Florida]

Dear Sterling,

     Would you please take my 7000-word piece JOAN RAWSHANKS IN THE FOG3 out of the file and mail it to Michael Grieg, PAPERBACK EDITIONS LIMITED, 1133 De Haro Street, San Francisco 10, Calif.

    Enclosed are the stamps he sent me.

    And make it clear to him that when he's finished with the typescript copy to mail it pronto back to you (altho I have the original in the main MS of VISIONS OF NEAL novel).

    Although he doesnt pay anything, it will be good to get a piece of V OF NEAL published and start it a-rolling.

    And as I understand it, we can always sell JOAN RAWSHANKS afterwards anyway. Tell him not to copyright it under anything but my name, of course.

    I will be in to see you Tuesday [January] 8th, late afternoon, to join new addition to TRISTESSA and discuss Viking contract with you, and I'll have prepared MS of ROAD with me in a suitcase, along with other new MSS. SUBTERRANEANS is all ready for Don Allen ... it is 173 pages long, at 300 words per page, therefore it is no less than 50,000 words long and so worth $500 at lca word, tell Barney Rosset.

Till I see you,

As ever,


While in Florida, Kerouac dropped postcards to his girlfriend Helen Weaver and the editor Donald Allen at Grove Press. Jack had moved into Helen's apartment in Greenwich Fillage after Thanksgiving 1956, and stayed with her until returning to his family in Orlando on December 20. In the last days of 1956 he ex- changed several cards and letters with Helen, describing his Christmas, when he had '?aced on bicycles with young nephew to go buy his present, which was Elvis Presley album, and he takes his banjo and closes his eyes and imitates Elvis to a T... all the little boys love him.... so I was right about his singing like little boys."


[Card postmarked January 5, 1957

Orlando, Florida]

    Dear Helen .... Will be home, call you, probably Wednesday .... Re- ceived your gone letter and Greg's [Corso's] note .... Glad to hear of vari- ous good times you had Xrnas and NY's eve .... Funny about yr. dad digging Screamin Jay [Hawkins].5... Tho I'm sposed to be a lazy bum I havent done anything for the last 12 days hut rattle this typewriter day and night tryna catch up with my wild handscripts writ in desolation & solitude .... money in the future bank for logs on the fire and scotch & soda and the late show and you in my fleecy arms .... Incidentally we are invited to a weekend in Old Saybrook, Conn. dont forget in a big victorian house oer topped by great old trees and with fireplace and jazz and toddies and wonderful couple Johnny & Shirley Holmes so save a January weekend for that, you and me and Pete [Orlovsky] and Allen [Ginsberg] .... I got nice letter from Don Allen, he is swell .... also a pretty Xmas card from English publishers, apparently Bob Giroux wrote them I was back .... (Eyre [&] Spottiswoode).... I hope yr. 33 speed [phonograph] is fixt, I'm bringing back Chet Baker.7 LOVE N'craint pas ... Je t'aime.... Oui ... X X X Jean.


[Postmarked January 5, 1957

Orlando, Florida]

Dear Don-

    Your letter most charming, unexpected, & welcome.8 Working like a dog down here trying to get those 2 new mss. typed up and ready. I'll be over to your place (call first) I believe Tuesday Jan. 8 in the afternoon and with me I'll have a suitcase containing six manuscripts some of them huge ... VISIONS OF NEAL (novel), DESOLATION ANGELS (novel), BOOK OF BLUES (poems long and short), BOOK OF DREAMS (long dream diary written in my "spontaneous prose" & quite rich), SOME OF THE DHARMA (a Pascal-Pensees of Buddhism probably more important than Pascal's and almost as well written), and TRISTESSA (novel, fairly short) .... You can peruse them at yr. leisure while I'm in NY and after I'm gone, it'll just be a question of getting them delivered somehow back to my agent Sterling Lord ... okay? Visions of Neal and Some of the Dharma are the books I really want you to dig. Also, let's make a date to go out and hear some jazz. Your new friend,

Jack K.

On January 8, 1957, after riding a Greyhound bus from Orlando to New York City, Kerouac went to the Viking offices to turn in the manuscript of On the Road to Malcolm Cowley. According to Helen Weaver, Jack told her that he bought a pint of bourbon and chugalugged it in the elevator before meeting Cowley, and then after leaving Viking he continued to celebrate with Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, and Gregory Corso before coming back to her apartment in the West Village. Two days later Jack told his Friend John Clellon Holmes that he would sign the contract with Viking "for sure" the next daft.


Jan. 10, 1957

[New York City]

Dear Johnny-

    All of us are agreed on the weekend of Jan. 19 for our visit with you & Shirley [Holmes's wife] in Ole Saybrook-Allen [Ginsberg], Peter [Orlovsky], Helen my love & I-Dig February issue of Mademoiselle , our pictures are in it-wherein is called Allen Ginsberg a "bop pioneer"-is date satisfactory? Drop note-

     Excuse paper. I am alone in Helen's Hawthornian room, afternoon, it looks out on the White Horse bar & old cobbles & gables-playing St. Matthew Passion on box-I am sad because I flew into a rage over her Olivetti typewriter (they never work)-Signing contract tomorrow for sure with Viking-Sad because we live to be good but the bad works hard & works us down to despair-But I refuse to be bad!-Gregory [Corso] in town, alone, his Surrah's in Paris waiting-

    I'm looking forward to sweet Shidey's fabulous cooking-hmm! I hope our visit won't leave you exhausted-Diamond Sutra say: "Keep your mind free and all-penetrating and calm"- Tonight I drink with Lucien [Carr] alone in a blizzard-

Your friend


     On January l1, 1957, Kerouac finally signed his contract with the Viking Press far On the Road. He stayed on in New York City, waiting for a ship to Tangier the following month, the first stage of what he planned as a long sojourn in Eu- rope. After a couple of weeks at Helen Weaver's apartment, she asked him to leave because she couldn't take what she later remembered as the '"nonstop party"at her place, with Jack drinking "prodigious amounts" and Allen, Peter, and Gregory sleeping on her floor.

     For a few days Kerouac lived in a cheap hotel on Eighth Street in Greenwich Village, where he impulsively phoned his first wife, Edith Parker in Michigan, after she sent him an affectionate letter. Jack wrote to Edie giving forwarding address that was the West l13th Street apartment of a new girfriend in New York, Joyce Glassman, with whom he stayed until he left for Tangier. Glassman, a twenty-one-year-old graduate of Barnard College and aspiring novelist who supported herself working at an office job in a literary agency, later published under her married name, Joyce Johnson. She told the story of her love affair with Kerouac in her memoir Minor Characters.


Monday Jan. 28 [1957]

[New York City]

Dear Edie,

    That was a beautiful letter you wrote me. I read some of it to Lucien later on.

    You know, before Joan [Burroughs] died, when I saw her in 1950, she said you were the greatest person (I think she said nicest) she had ever known.

    As for Willy B[urroughs], he's queening around now but as ever he never bothers me with that. Instead we take long walks in the evening with hands clasped behind our backs, conversing politely. He is a great gendeman and as you may know, has become a great writer, in fact all the big- wigs are afraid of him (W. H. Auden, etc.) Yes, he knows we're coming in February late.

    Allen never loses track of me even when I try to hide)c He does me many favors publicizing my name. Well, we're old friends anyway. But I cant keep up the hectic "fame" life he wants and so I wont stay with them long in Tangier. I'm going to get me a quiet hut by the sea on the Spanish coast, then join them in Paris in the Spring.

    "Escaping reality to go into simplicity" is just what I do, except I regard reality as being simplicity. That is, God is Alone. Dont worry, I eat plenty. I have my cook kit in my pack and make delicious food wherever I go, when I have to. In NY naturally everybody invites me to big dinners in homes. But like in Spain and Europe, I'll make me pancakes and syrup with black coffee for breakfast, boil me big pots of Boston baked beans with salt pork and molasses, make salads, eat French bread, cheese and dates for dessert. Etc.

    I'll write to you and you keep writing and if you suddenly get the impulse to see Europe I'll be there to show you around.

    I have never left you either, and had many dreams of you, wild dreams where we're wandering in dark alleys of Mexico looking for a place to bang, etc.

    I want to end my life as an old man in a shack in the woods, and I'm leading up to that soon as I dig the whole world including the Orient. I'm invited to a Buddhist Monastery in Japan and will go within 5 years. Also other things. Make movies too, later. I'll have more money than I need. Or maybe only what I need. I'm glad to send my mother her reward, think eventually I'll take her out to California and get her a little rose covered cottage, and get me a shack for half the time, in the wild hills beyond Mount Tamalpais.

    Hearing your voice at night over the phone, in a hotel where I'd gone to hide out to work, was like a strange & beautiful dream. You sounded warmer and more mature. You will always be a great woman. I have a lot of things to teach you now, in case we ever meet, concerning the message that was transmitted to me under a pine tree in North Carolina on a cold winter moonlit night. It said that Nothing Ever Happened, so dont worry. It's all like a dream. Everything is ecstasy, inside. We just dont know it because of our thinkingminds. But in our true blissful essence of mind is known that everything is alright forever and forever and forever. Close your eyes, let your hands and nerve-ends drop, stop breathing for 3 seconds, listen to the silence inside the illusion of the world, and you will remember the lesson you forgot, which was taught in immense milky ways of cloudy innumerable worlds long ago and not even at all. It is all one vast awakened thing. I call it the golden eternity. It is perfect. We were never really born, we will never really die. It has nothing to do with the imaginary idea of a personal self, other selves, many selves everywhere, or one universal self: Self is only an idea, a mortal idea. That which passes through everything, is one thing. It's a dream already ended. There's nothing to be afraid of and nothing to be glad about. I know this from staring at mountains months on end. They never show any expression, they are like empty space. Do you think the emptiness of space will ever crumble away? Mountains will crumble, but the emptiness of space, which is the one universal essence of mind, the one vast awakenerhood, empty and awake, will never crumble away because it was never born.

The world you see is just a movie in your mind.

Rocks dont see it.

Bless and sit down.

Forgive and forget.

Practice kindness all day to everybody

and you will realize you're already

in heaven now.

That's the story.

That's the message.

Nobody understands it,

nobody listens, they're

all running around like

chickens with heads cut

off. I will try to

teach it but it will

be in vain, s'why I'll

end up in a shack

praying and being

cool and singing

by my woodstove

making pancakes.

Write again.... I'I1 be at this address

till our ship leaves, c/o J. Glassman

554 W. 113th St.

(fight near Johnny &

the West End, Johnny

asked bout you the

other night.)

Your eternal old man,


    Before leavinging Tangier on February 15, Kerouac sent a last-minute letter to Malcolm Cowley, who had shown Jack his notes for an introduction he was planning to write for On the Road. A month later, after reading the manuscript of Desolation Angels that Kerouac had typed up for him, Cowley decided to drop his introduction.


Feb. 4, 1957

c/o J. Glassman

554 W. 113 St.

New York, N.Y.


Dear Malcolm

    Two things we failed to insert in your notes for the introduction.

(1) That as a "recording angel" however I have to do it in a neces- sarily birds-eye personal-view form of a legend, which is the DU- LUOZ LEGEND, to which all the books belong except first novel naturalistic fictional Town & City. "Duluoz" is Kerouac, as you know, but might note.

(2) We forgot to add BOOK OF DREAMS to the complete list of works, which is a 300-page tome of some excellence, sponta- neously written dreams some of them written in the peculiar dream-language of half-awake in the morning.

    If you have the time, let me know what you think literary-spiritually and then professionally of DESOLATION ANGELS, and if you decide for that or DOCTOR SAX as our next venture. Hoping you're having a pleasant rest,-

as ever,


    Along with Joyce Glassman, Kerouac's friends Lucien Carr and his wife, Cessa, saw Jack depart New York harbor on the Yugoslavian freighter S.S. Slovenija to Tangier. They were among the firstpeople to whom he wrote letters after he'd sur- vived the rough crossing on the stormy North Atlantic Ocean. In Book Two of Desolation Angels, Kerouac described his excitement aboard ship, catching his first sight of the African coastal city:

Then like seeing sudden slow files of Mohammedan women in white ]saw the white roofs of the little port of Tangier sitting right there in the elbow of the land, on the water. This dream of white robed African on the blue afternoon Sea, wow, who dreamed it? Rimbaud! Magellan! Delacroix! Napoleon! White sheets waving on the rooftop!

(Continues ...)

Copyright © 1999 Jack Kerouac. All rights reserved.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Choice on 2000-04:
This second (and concluding) volume of Charters's editing of Jack Kerouac's letters is illuminating and rewarding. Picking up in 1957, just before Kerouac published On the Road and rocketed to fame and notoriety (two sides of the same coin), the present volume documents the rise and fall of what Kerouac named the Beat Generation. Most of the usual suspects appear (Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti), and the letters make immediately clear how emotionally unprepared Kerouac was to be called the voice of a new generation on the one hand, and the moral corrupter of US youth on the other. More and more, he considered himself misunderstood by fans and critics, who both mistakenly pointed to excess and hedonism at the center of his vision. In reaction, Kerouac attempted unsuccessfully several times to retreat into solitude with his mother, but the US public simply would not allow it. His only feasible escape became drinking, and in 1969 he died of an internal hemorrhage, the inevitable result of his alcoholism. Highly recommended along with its companion volume (Selected Letters, 1940-1956, CH, Jul'95) for anyone with an interest in US literature. All levels. M. H. Begnal; Pennsylvania State University, University Park Campus
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 1999-10-18:
The peripatetic urgency, Buddhist catchphrases and casual prose of On the Road (1957) and Dharma Bums (1958) made Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) the star of the Beat generation. Kerouac's "craft of spontaneous prose" (in Charters's words) let him use his letters as rough drafts for some of his autobiographical fiction. Devotees of those novels can troll for their favorite episodes among Kerouac's complaints, requests, loans, repayments, reports, retorts, rebukes and resolutions. "[W]hen I write a book it's just a chapter in the whole story," a 1960 missive to Neal Cassady explains, "but there wd be no literature in the world safe to say i would rather read than my own remembrance of things." Editor Charters (also Kerouac's biographer) uses her annotations and commentary to make the sometimes hasty, expressive missives cohere as an account of the novelist's life. A first volume of letters appeared in 1995; this second starts with the publication of On the Road and continues almost to the day Kerouac died. The years 1957-1960, the height of Kerouac's career, occupy more than half the volume. Later letters record his struggle to care for his ailing mother, his efforts to finish his later books and his troubles with money and health: "I drink more than ever, my hands tremble, I can't type." Frequent addressees and subjects include Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg ("I still think he's a false prophet, sheep's clothing and ravening wolf"). By turns witty, slovenly and empathetic, the letters provide a look into Kerouac's psyche and into the exhilarating, frustrating, ramshackle milieu he helped create. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
This item was reviewed in:
Kirkus Reviews, September 1999
Publishers Weekly, October 1999
Booklist, November 1999
Choice, April 2000
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Bowker Data Service Summary
Written between 1957 and two days before his death in 1969, Jack Kerouac's letters tell his own story through his correspondence to friends. They explore his development as a writer and shows how the publicity and criticism nearly destroyed him.
Publisher Fact Sheet
The early correspondence portended the uninhibited & spontaneous prose style that would later become the author's trademark. In the second & final volume of this life-in-letters, a renowned Kerouac biographer & editor, features selected letters that illuminate the latter years of this inimitable writer-the years of fame, alcohol, & disillusionment. Written between 1957, the year of the publication of On the Road, & two days before his death in 1969 at the age of forty-seven, Kerouac's letters tell his own story through his candid & voluminous correspondence to friends & confidants-from Malcolm Cowley, Allen Ginsberg, & Gary Snyder to Joyce Johnson, John Clellon Holmes & Sterling Lord. In his letters, Kerouac explores his development as a writer, as well as revealing how the onslaught of publicity & criticism after the publication of On the Road in 1957 nearly destroyed him.
Unpaid Annotation
The first volume of Jack Kerouac's selected letters, published in 1995, was hailed as an important and revealing addition to Kerouac scholarship. This second and final volume of letters, written between 1957, the year On the Road was published, to one day before his death in 1969 at age forty-seven, tell Kerouac's life story through his candid correspondence with friends, confidants, and editors -- among them Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Philip Whalen, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Joyce Johnson, and Malcolm Cowley. Documenting his continuing development as a writer, his travels, love affairs, and complicated family life, the letters also reveal Kerouac's amazing courage in the face of criticism and his never-ending quest to be the best writer possible.Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters 1957-1969 offers unparalleled insight into the life and mind of this giant of the American literary landscape.
Unpaid Annotation
When Viking published the first volume of Jack Kerouac's letters in 1995, it was considered a major addition to Kerouac scholarship. The early correspondence portended the uninhibited and spontaneous prose style that would later become the author's trademark. In the second and final volume of this life-in-letters, Ann Charters, renowned Kerouac biographer and editor of The Portable Jack Kerouac, features selected letters that illuminate the latter years of this inimitable writer--the years of fame, alcohol, and disillusionment.Written between 1957, the year of the publication of On the Road, and two days before his death in 1969 at the age of forty-seven, Kerouac's letters tell his own story through his candid and voluminous correspondence to friends and confidants--from Malcolm Cowley, Allen Ginsberg, and Gary Snyder to Joyce Johnson, John Clellon Holmes and Sterling Lord. In his letters, Kerouac explores his development as a writer, as well as revealing how the onslaught of publicity and criticism after the publication of On the Road in 1957 nearly destroyed him. Offering unparalleled insights into the mind and life of a giant of the American literary landscape, Jack Kerouac: Selected Letters 1957-1969 is a major addition to the understanding of the artist and his work.

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