The Beat goes on: Lost play by Kerouac to be published

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The Independent Culture

Beatnik fans are in for an unexpected treat as a US magazine prepares to run excerpts from a previously unpublished play written by the Beat author Jack Kerouac in 1957.

Beatnik fans are in for an unexpected treat as a US magazine prepares to run excerpts from a previously unpublished play written by the Beat author Jack Kerouac in 1957.

The play was never performed, but was recently discovered by Kerouac's former literary agent, languishing in a New Jersey warehouse.

The play, called Beat Generation, traces a day in the life of Kerouac's drink-soaked and drug-hazed literary alter ego, Jack Duluoz, as he consorts with other characters believed to be loosely based on other legends of the era, including the poet Allen Ginsberg and the novelist and Beat pioneer Neal Cassady.

Sterling Lord, who was Kerouac's agent until his death in 1969, found the play several weeks ago among papers he had been storing. It was written in the same year that Kerouac penned his most famous work, the novel On the Road.

"It's quite different," he told the New York Post. "But it conveys the mood of the time extraordinarily well, and also the characters are authentically drawn. Some people have compared it to some of the great European playwrights."

Mr Lord said he briefly tried to raise interest in the play when it was first completed. Those he showed it to included the American playwright Lillian Hellman and Marlon Brando. After it suffered a series of rejections, Kerouac told his agent to shelve it. Hence it found its way into the warehouse, where it remained for almost 50 years.

The first glimpse of the play will come when excerpts run in the July issue of the men's health magazine Best Life. But it will be published in full in book form by Thunders Mouth Press this autumn.

Kerouac's play - whatever critics may say of it - is likely to carry significant monetary value, notwithstanding its failure to win attention when first written. Mr Lord successfully sold a typewritten copy of On the Road for $2.4m (£1.3m) a few years ago.

That Beat Generation is now being published was the result of an innocent question. The editor of Best Life, Stephen Perrine, was recently on his way to have lunch with Mr Lord when it occurred to him to ask whether, by chance, he knew of any unpublished Kerouac writings. He was lucky enough to ask it just a short while after Mr Lord had stumbled across the play.

Something of a legend himself, Mr Lord has represented other American writers including Ken Kesey and the poet Amiri Baraka.

Kerouac groupies may also be heading to Christie's in New York, which is preparing to auction on 30 June a letter written by the author to Brando, also in 1957, after he had completed On the Road.

"I'm praying that you'll buy On the Road and make a movie of it," he wrote to the actor, saying he hoped it would make enough money to "establish myself and my mother a trust fund for life, so I can really go roaming round the world" and "be free to write what comes out of my head & free to feed my buddies when they're hungry & not worry about my mother."

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