cover image Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters

Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters

Edited by Bill Morgan and David Stanford, Viking, $35 (528p) ISBN 978-0-670-02194-9

At times loving, at others blistering, sarcastic, often uncomfortably self-lacerating and intimate, these 200 letters, collected in a heroic editorial effort by Ginsberg biographer Morgan and independent editor Stanford, cover the years 1944–1963, the most fertile in the creative lives of Kerouac and Ginsberg. A disbelieving Ginsberg writes to Kerouac in 1952 that On the Road is unpublishable, while Kerouac asks Ginsberg to treat his magnum opus as the next Ulysses. Kerouac immediately praises Howl in 1955, and in return Ginsberg gives Kerouac the manuscript while recounting, like any hopeful author, how freebies have gone to Eliot, Pound, Faulkner. Throughout, the sometimes sporadic letter writing is filled with fragments of works in progress and pungent observations on the authors and publishing people who influenced them, from Dante and Gide to Malcolm Cowley and Sterling Lord. There also is plenty of gossip about Peter Orlovsky, William Burroughs, and others in the circle. A growing rift concludes the 1950s, as literary fame mixed with alcohol weighs on Kerouac, though these soul brothers reunite through letters of the early 1960s. On receiving Ginsberg’s work, Thelonius Monk exclaimed, "It makes sense." In its strange way, so does this intense and offbeat correspondence. (July 12)