Monday, February 06, 2006

Neal Cassady's 80th Birthday

Wednesday is Cowboy Neal's 80th Birthday. He was born on the road, or on the side of the road, here in Salt Lake City. We are having several events in honor of his birtday:

From Salt Lake Tribune:

Inspiration for the Beat generation is honored
By Lynda Percival Close-Up CorrespondentSalt Lake Tribune
Who is Neal Cassady and why is Ken Sanders throwing him a birthday party?

Cassady was the inspiration for many literary works of the 1950s Beat movement, including Jack Kerouac's On the Road, Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and Allen Ginsberg's Howl.

Because Cassady was born in 1926 in Salt Lake City, Ken Sanders Rare Books is hosting a party in his honor Wednesday for what would be his 80th birthday.

"It's a passion of mine, trying to champion forgotten Utah authors," said Sanders. "Everybody thinks of this as a literary backwater, but it really isn't. There have been some amazing people come out of the state of Utah."

Though Cassady, who died in Mexico at age 41, was never published in his lifetime, his writing style had a huge impact on Kerouac. Cassady appears in Kerouac's On the Road as Dean Moriarty.

John Sillito, curator of special collections at Weber State University, maintains it was not only Cassady's writings - which were published posthumously as a book of poetry, The First Third - but his personality that influenced Kerouac's writing style, which Kerouac himself described as "spontaneous prose."

"He influenced Kerouac by his very being," said Sillito. "He was a very quick-speaking, fast-moving, frenetic kind of a guy."

Cassady later teamed with Ken Kesey and drove the psychedelic bus "Furthur" on a trip later to be chronicled by Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Cassady is also mentioned in works by Hunter S. Thompson and the Grateful Dead. In Ginsberg's poem Howl, Cassady is referenced as "N.C., secret hero of these poems."

Sanders says Cassady was a catalyst for the Beat generation, which is currently generating renewed interest. Last fall, 1,000 people attended the Salt Lake City Book Festival when Howl was featured. According to Sanders, it was the largest poetry event to take place in Utah.

"I think the Beat movement resonates with young people because politics often go in cycles," said Sanders. "The 50s were a very repressive, repressive time and we've kind of come back to that full circle again. I think it resonates when personal freedoms are taken away."

Sillito describes the Beat generation as "a post-war literary phenomenon that rejects the materialism and the regimentation of the people in the 1950s."

Though Cassady is not well-known, he influenced all the key players of the Beat generation as well as the counter-culture movement in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1960s. Much lore has been built around him.

"He becomes almost a cult figure within a small group, then an iconic figure in a bigger group and, after his death, a kind of mythic figure to an even larger group," said Sillito. Sanders would like to invite people attend what he calls "a low-key celebration of Neal Cassady's life" and learn more the Salt Lake City native. "And," he added, "we'll have cake."

Happy birthday, Neal

Neal Cassady's birthday celebration will be a day-long event Wednesday, beginning at 11 a.m. with a public lecture by Michael Schumacher entitled "Neal Cassady and the Beat Generation" in the special collections area of the Stewart Library at Weber State University.

At 6:30 p.m., John Sillito, curator of special collections at Weber State University, will give a brief presentation at 48 W. Broadway, the site listed as Neal Cassady's birthplace.

At 7 p.m. a reading and celebration of Cassady's life will be held at Ken Sanders Rare Books (268 S. 200 East) at which Schumacher will also make some brief remarks. All events are free and open to the public.

From Salt Lake Tribune:

Keep the beat: Several events are planned Wednesday to celebrate the 80th birthday of the late Beat writer and muse Neal Cassady, who was born in Salt Lake City. Author Michael Schumacher will present "Neal Cassady and the Beat Generation" at 11 a.m. in the Stewart Library Special Collections Room at Weber State University in Ogden. At 6:30 p.m., historian and WSU archivist John Sillito will speak on "Salt Lake City in the 1920s" at Cassady's childhood home, 48 W. Broadway, Salt Lake City. The festivities will move to Ken Sanders' Rare Books, 268 S. 200 East, for a reading and more remarks by Schumacher. Cassady is best known for encouraging Beat authors such as Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Ken Kesey. The events are co-sponsored by the Utah Humanities Council, WSU's Stewart Library and Ken Sanders' Rare Books. For more information, call WSU's John Sillito at 801-626-6416 or Ken Sanders' Rare Books at 801-521-3819.


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