Tag Archives: spontaneous

Viewing Cassady’s “Lost” Joan Anderson Letter

7 Jul

The “lost” letter that forever changed Jack Kerouac’s writing style was recently “found” and put on auction at Christie’s last month. If you’re someone who has read any biography about Kerouac, you’ve heard of the infamous “Joan Anderson letter.” You know the importance of this letter.

It is — what for it! — legendary.

I was on my way to Christie’s on the day before auction to see the letter when I ran into my coworker on the elevator. We exchanged pleasantries about what we were having for lunch, and I burst out in excitement — or at least the equivalent of bursting out in excitement for my shy nerdy self — that I was on my way to see the Joan Anderson letter. He had never heard of it. He knew very little about the Beat Generation. He asked about it, and I was somewhat at a loss for how to explain it. I started explaining that it was written by Kerouac’s friend Neal Cassady, who wrote in a fast-paced, confessional style.

But what is it about? he wanted to know.

Ah. Now I blushed. I said something about it being … “scandalous.” How could I explain the contents of the letter without sounding like I was into reading other people’s sexcapades? The forty-page letter was Cassady’s sexual exploits in 1946. It included stories about a woman named Joan Anderson in a hospital and one named Cherry Mary who got caught by her aunt.

 

It wasn’t about the subject matter, though. That was not what ever interested me. And it’s not just what interested Kerouac — or even Cassady. It was about telling a good story. Capturing it in a way that is real. Authentic. Captivating.

I had met Neal Cassady’s daughter’s husband at a reading in Greenwich Village, and he had shown me a copy of the letter. What fascinated me was the illustrations and handwritten addenda that I hadn’t known about.

I went to Christie’s auction house because I wanted to see the real letter in person. I’ve never seen the scroll version of On the Road. I missed it the last time it was in New York City about ten years ago. So seeing the Joan Anderson letter, a letter purported to have been lost and unseen by so most, was one of those literary moments I couldn’t pass up.

Having never been to Christie’s before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would I have to be patted down? Would I have to turn in my iPhone? Would I even be able to find the letter amongst all the other treasures up for auction? I was surprised to discover it was the very first thing one could possibly see upon entering Christie’s. I could only see a few pages of the letter, as the whole thing wasn’t on display. It was difficult to read the entire thing, but I tilted my head and read sections. I took the whole thing in. It was exciting. It felt like history. Perhaps the way some people feel about seeing the Constitution. I didn’t press my luck and try to take a photograph, but I carried the memory of it with me as I walked back to work.

The letter didn’t end up selling at auction. You can read about Neal Cassady’s Joan Anderson letter here, on Christie’s auction house website and here.

You can read Cassady’s letters in Neal Cassady: Collected Letters, 1944-1967.

 

 

 

 

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The Light and Life of Greek American Neon Artist Stephen Antonakos (1926–2013)

19 Aug

I learned via Gregory Pappas, founder of the Greek America Foundation, that artist Stephen Antonakos passed away this weekend. I had the great privilege of attending an exhibition of Antonakos’ neon sculptures at the Lori Bookstein Fine Art gallery here in New York City when the abstract artist was honored for the Gabby Awards Lifetime Achievement Award. You can read about that here. Antonakos attended the event, and I remember him being a quiet, humble artist. Yet his work speaks volumes.

Captivated by the neon lights of New York City, the Greek immigrant—Antonakos moved to the US when he was four years old—the artist began incorporating neon into his art in 1960. In an interview with Zoe Kosmidou, he explained the symbolism—or lack thereof—in his neon work:

My forms do not represent, symbolize, or refer to anything outside of themselves. Such specific correspondences would limit the work’s meaning, whereas pure abstraction, liberated from any external references, is capable of saying so much more. My neons relate formally to architecture and space, but they do not represent anything outside themselves.

Even so, raised in the Greek Orthodox Church, the artist’s work did have spiritual subtext. He created crosses and “chapels.”

Earlier, in the mid 1950s, Antonakos was creating collages. In a 2007 interview with Phong Bui for The Brooklyn Rail, Antonakos said:

And since oil painting was too slow for me to keep up with all of the ideas that were racing through my mind, I felt the physical and spontaneous process of putting various objects together was more suitable to what I needed to get done in those years.

His desire to work fast, engage in a spontaneous process, and collage disparate found objects together resonates with the postmodern aesthetic. We hear the same vision in the works of the abstract expressionist painters and the Beat Generation writers. Antonakos revealed that although he admired the work of the abstract expressionists, he felt he could “get more out of” the Italian artists Alberto Burri and Lucio Fontana.

Antonakos went on to have more than 100 solo shows around the work.

For artists of any discipline, one of the great takeaways from Antonakos’ life is that one can have a day job and still be an artist as long as one perseveres. Antonakos worked as a pharmaceutical illustrator during the day and then would work in his studio until 2 in the morning.

Here are a couple of links to celebrate the life and work of this inspired artist:

Jack Kerouac and NaNoWriMo

8 Nov

Jack Kerouac claimed to have written On the Road in three weeks.  That’s only partly true.  My coauthor, Paul Maher Jr., and I tell the less marketable but more realistic story in Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.

Part of the way Kerouac wrote his novels was to sit down at a typewriter and write, write, write til the story was told.  There’s something to be said about this.  The intensity of writing a whole novel in a short time span drives the work.  It’s so easy as an author to get distracted, to start something and never complete it, to get so caught up in getting syntax correct that the story never moves forward.  The “backspace” button on the computer keyboard is all too familiar to most authors, struggling as self-editors.  We want to get it right.  Sometimes this happens at the expense of getting it done at all.

While many would disagree, some authors believe that the key to writing is to push out a first draft.  Once the backbone of the story is there on the page, the author can always go back and edit it.  Most times, the editing process is the longest and most arduous.  Whole sections are moved or deleted.  Characters are killed off if they’re not important.  Diction is tightened.

I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo — National Novel Writing Month — this year to gain a better sense of what Kerouac went through when he wrote his books.  Call it “method writing” to understand the subject of my book better.