Skip to main content

See also:

Lighthouse Writers' Workshop Regional Writing Panel (Neal Cassady and MORE)

Modern Beat
Modern Beat
The Beat Generation and Denver

This coming Friday the 25th your reporter will be speaking as part of a panel on regional writing at Lighthouse Writers Workshop, 1515 Race St., beginning at 5:30 PM, discussing Neal Cassady's partial autobiography, The First Third, and a published volume of his correspondence, and reading excerpts from these. A prospective job with a 420 friendly limo tour of Beat Generation landmarks around Denver has morphed, with the generous assistance of Neal Cassady: The Denver Years director Heather Dalton, into the position of contracted author for this reporter, who is expected to deliver a combined narrative history of the Beats and a guide to their landmarks to his publisher by October 20th at the latest.

Parts of this region, especially Denver and Boulder, have intimate ties to the Beat Generation, largely via Neal Cassady, who inspired that movement into being with the vitality of his nature, as fictionalized in characters like John Clellon Holmes’s Hart Kennedy or Jack Kerouac’s Dean Moriarty. Though he was born “on the road,” during a stopover in Salt Lake City by his parents, his hometown was Denver. For decades, Cassady’s only published work was his partial autobiography, The First Third, in part detailing his youth as de facto ward to a flophouse of hard luck cases on Larimer Street, in a former Denver when Larimer was lined with pool halls and flophouses, some parts of which still stand, but in 2004, Neal’s collected letters 1944-1967 were published, providing an accurate vision of his literary worth for perhaps the first time. Whatever the reason, when Neal tried hard to write well, emulating heroes like Maurice Stendhal and Marcel Proust, the result was highly formalized and seemed almost hesitant in comparison to the freewheeling, all-inclusive manner of his letters. I’ve long been aware of a lack of local memorials to this vital local talent, despite Neal’s far reaching influence—Kerouac inaugurated a literary movement called “spontaneous prose” and later drove Ken Kesey’s magic bus “Furthur” from Acid Test to Acid Test, providing a living bridge between two segments of the developing counter cultural scene with his active participation in its latest form. One recent odd job of mine is narrating tours of these landmarks in the role of Beat Historian with Colorado Rocky Mountain High Tours.

The general public is far less aware of Billy Burroughs’s Denver connection. Near the end of his life, Burroughs, Jr., son of the Naked Lunch author, lived in a downscale apartment just south of University Hospital, on the site where Trader Joe’s now stands. Billy’s unfinished third novel, Prakriti Junction, were written at this location, and is included in the collection Cursed from Birth, an overview of Billy’s writing edited by David Ohle. Members of the Denver spoken word scene, including the late Larry Lake and Mercury Café STORIES STORIES host Edwin Forrest Ward, had the fortune of his acquaintance.