A late-life letter from Jack Kerouac will be featured in an upcoming auction from Boston-based RR Auction. The typed one-page letter, dated September 27, 1968, a year before Kerouac died at 47, was written to his literary agent, Sterling Lord, in New York concerning the premise for Kerouac’s never-completed final book, the working title of which was Spotlight.
The letter, here in its entirety, is reprinted with permission.
Here’s what I’ll do with SPOTLIGHT. I’ll use my public appearances on TV and lectures as rungs in the ladder of the narrative. In betwixt, I can throw in more private matters, such as my two physical beatings in bars (‘Spotlight’ indeed), and other things, but the main tale will be. I’ll start with when I’m living on that backporch in Florida with my Maw in 1957, broke, arguing about what to buy for dessert because we have no money for meat, and suddenly Time Magazine comes in to interview me about the upcoming publication of ON THE ROAD. At which time, also, I have the mumps, caught in the Mexico City earthquake of August 1957.
Then I saunter to the railroad station and sit in the warm dry air waiting for my train to New York, figuring, I’ll go up there and see how this new book makes out. When I arrive in New York City I look in a disposal trash basket in Penn Station to see what my review was like in the New York Times. But since someone’s spit on the only Times in the can, I dont touch it, and only walk up to the Viking Press to see what’s happened. When I get there they tell me I’m an overnight success. And I’m hungry for food. So we go to Schraft’s across the street and I order my lunch but everybody’s yakking so much around me I begin to realize right then and there that ‘success’ is when you can’t enjoy your food any more in peace. Ow. Then we go into my first public appearance with John Wingate on his Channel 7 show when the cameraman actually dollied up to my glass of water and spilled it and so Wingate, who was in cahoots with this trick, said ‘Whatsamatter, drunk?’ then I went on Wingate again later, then on Ben Hecht show, then the lecture at Brandeis University where I was roundly booed for arguing about peace with the editor of the New York Post, Wechsler, he saying America was complicated enough with having to have poetry and I telling him he was a son of a you know what, and then details in between. Leading up to the premiere of my movie PULL MY DAISY at the San Francisco film festival, where a lot of other things happened, like a funny meeting with David Niven and his asking me which girl at the party I really thought he should take home, knowing my expertise in such matters, (as tho I didnt know his), and then the moving about the country in cars and waiting in trucks, and the beatings I told you about. And then a trip to Montreal Canada to appear (in French language program) (1967), and finally this last appearance on the Wm. F. Buckley Jr. program (ABC) where Buckley kept kicking my shoes and telling me to shush so the other guests could demonstrate how dull they were, or stupid, and, as I say, all interspersed with the valid details of tale-telling: actually, Sterling, and enormous story and should be okay as local history.
It is the latest chronological part of the Duluoz Legend, and of course I wont go into 1960 BIG SUR experiences or 1965 SATORI IN PARIS, but just mention them in passing. It will complete the ‘Legend’ up to now and may very well be my most exhausting writing experience, since the story is so fraught with eminent peril, men, women, dogs, cats, cornpones, agents, publishers, poolsharks, TV directors, calling me a ‘drunken moron,’ celebrities, boozers, bookies, phew, wait till you see it. But I cant do it without some money to live on, so show this letter to the prospective publisher and let’s get at it.
Kerouac added a lengthy postscript on the reverse, signed with his initials, in full:
p.s. I’m using the title SPOTLIGHT because that was the name of my father’s old theatrical newspaper in Lowell, when he used to play cards with W.C. Fields, George Arliss and George Burns backstage at the old B.F. Keith’s theater (of the Keith’s circuit) in Lowell. The title will honor the memory of his own work. I really dont think we have to say BEAT SPOTLIGHT, as I originally proposed, unless the publishers think different, just as long as spotlight is in there. And of course no changes in the prose. “
Enclosed find my signature to the Marshall A. Best Viking contract. Your advice suits me, and has suited me, and my wife; Elle travaille en racuillon, i.e., backwards, backwards toward the angle and not onward with our friendly neighborhood agent. (I think she oughta mind her own business and wash her dishes.) Give my regards to Cindy and Rebecca.”
Lord was Kerouac’s agent and was responsible for shopping On the Road to Viking, who published it in 1957.
"Excellent content in a letter that is quintessentially Kerouac,” said Bobby Livingston, executive VP at RR Auction.
Among other items related in the auction, a matte-finish gelatin silver photo of Jack Kerouac originally taken by Allen Ginsberg in 1953. The photo includes a lengthy description by Ginsberg of Kerouac and the setting of the picture.
The Fine Autographs and Artifacts auction from RR Auction features more than 1,000 items. The auction began on June 26 and will end on July 15 at 7 p.m. More details can be found online at rrauction.com.