In 1956, Viking Press expressed an interest in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. The author had been writing and rewriting his novel for years, and Kerouac was growing impatient as it languished in the publishing house. He was working with an editorial consultant named Malcolm Cowley, who had first gained renown for his 1929 book of poetry Blue Juniata before writing one of the first books about the Lost Generation. Having been associated with the Lost Generation, it in many ways made sense that he was attracted to the Beat Generation.
By the 1940s he was editing Viking Portable editions. He championed the work of William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Walt Whitman, Ernest Hemingway, and John Cheever. His interest in Kerouac’s On the Road is important to literary history. What many people forget is that Kerouac was already an established novelist before On the Road. He’d written a semi-autobiographical novel entitled The Town and the City that got respectable reviews with comparisons to Thomas Wolfe but which tanked when it came to sales. Kerouac had literary contacts, but selling On the Road still wasn’t easy. Cowley was interested but took his sweet time getting back to Kerouac.
On July 9, 1956, Kerouac sent him a postcard depicting the Lower Falls in Yellowstone National Park threatening to sell On the Road elsewhere if he didn’t receive his contract and advance from Viking. You can read Kerouac’s postcard to Malcolm Cowley (as well as 14 other postcards from authors) at Flavorwire.