"I DON'T SEE ANY NEED FOR AN AGENT TO HANDLE NOVELS. YOU WRITE ONE, YOU SEND IT TO A PUBLISHER; IT IS ACCEPTED OR IT ISN'T.": EXCELLENT AND LENGTHY ORIGINAL TYPED LETTER FROM KEN KESEY TO VIKING EDITOR PHYLLIS SARI LEVY REGARDING THE DIFFICULTIES OF FINDING AND DEALING WITH LITERARY AGENTS WITH A LENGTHY AUTOGRAPH POSTSCRIPT WRITTEN AND INITIALED BY KESEY
KESEY, Ken. Typed letter with autograph postscript signed. No place, circa 1961. Two sheets, each measuring 8-1/2 by 11 inches; pp. 2. Housed in a cardstock folder. $1900.
Original two-page typed letter, circa 1961, from Ken Kesey to his editor at Viking, the woman who published "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," Phyllis Sari Levy, discussing the difficulties of dealing with agents, the merits of acquiring reviews from clipping services, and plans for potential travel (possibly with some rather forward undertones), with an autograph postscript inquiring about a telegraph written entirely in Kesey's hand and initialed by him.
This letter was written by Ken Kesey to his editor at Viking, Phyllis Sari Levy. The typed letter reads, in full (with original spelling and grammar): "Phyllis: Know you your transgressions are bolted forevor behind the stubborn steel bars of my ribs, doomed forevor to black silence and at once inshrined by their own glow of charity. O, that the world should be so cruel as to starve it's very eyes of the light of your kindness! Not my style. Anyway, thank you. As you probably guessed and tried to keep from saying, I am even [autograph correction to "v"] as ignorant of the ways of agents as of publishers. More, at least I've heard of publishers. Horch just happened to be insistant. She has been writing and asking to represent me since I answered her first approuch after my Saxton award [for the in-progress and later unpublished novel Zoo]. I think I always knew she was no worldbeater of an agent or she wouldn't be abulance-chasing, [autograph comma] as it were, like a shyster lawyer. I made no commitments about any novels, past or future. I told her I didn't see any need for an agent to handle novels. You write one, you sent it to a publisher; it is accepted or it isn't. I figured I could handle that, but if she wanted to try to sell some short stories she was welcome to them. I have no knowledge of the short story market and I have a large number that have never gone anywhere, for just that reason. Certainly I would like to be represented by a top agent. I am very happy to have someone back there who can direct me to one. (by the way; have you ever thought of taking on a client and making something from your advice) Please do have Sterling Lord write me (what a name; he sounds like he should be in LA instead of NY) and advise him that I have signed nothing to give Horch any jurisdiction over my work; as it stands no she has ZOO and two short stories I sent her. I'll hold off anything else until I hear from him. Or you. And what is your home address while your about it. As long as we are on first-name, trangressional basis it seems I should be writing you were you live instead of were you work. There is something rather restrictive about writing a person in care of a Press. Make the person seem rather sexless, like a part instead of an individual. Let me get you home so I can get to know you as a woman. Also I have a personal fear—practically a phobia—that influential people I am fond of will hold my friendship in suspect because of their position; another reason for my wanting to remove you from your position. And on the very heels of such a statement I have another favor to ask: I received a notice from a clipping service, but I'm not sure I want to subscribe; I had a friend that did and was rewarded mostly with adds and duplications of clippings he already had. But I would like to see some reviews, good or bad. Could you? I'm beginning to think East. Would you like to take a vacation west? You could maybe ride back with me. I could show you some wild territory this side of the Mississippi. (was raised in Colorado). The books arrived. Do you know Cowley's address? Peter Beagle's? [Autograph addition: "McIntosh & Otis."] Thanks again, Ken. This letter also features a lengthy autograph postscript, that reads in full: "Hey! I just got a telegram instructing me to either contact Mr. James quick at J.K. Gill, or Mr James Quick at J.K. Gill—I will do this immediately, or as soon as I find out who or what J.K. Gill is. KK." In the letter, Kesey discusses literary agent Maria Horch, the widow of renowned agent Franz J. Horch, at length. Horch, rather than being an ambulance chaser, represented authors including Thomas Mann and Upton Sinclair. Sterling Lord, however, had represented Jack Kerouac and likely had a better understanding of Kesey and the image he wished to project. J.K. Gill, referred to in the postscript, was a major Portland-based company, primarily known for its trade in school and office supplies. However, it also publishing arm that handled books and lithography. This letter is address to "Phyllis," almost certainly Phyllis Sari Levy, Ken Kesey's editor at Viking and the woman who discovered (and fought for) One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. "Levy began her publishing career at Simon & Schuster in the 1950s, where she worked with author Rona Jaffe, who had been her roommate at Radcliffe College. She later moved to Viking, where she discovered author Ken Kesey. She was a senior editor at McCall's before moving to Good Housekeeping in 1982" as book editor (Publishers Weekly). For a This American Life feature, Levy recounted the circumstances behind Viking's acquisition of Cuckoo's Nest. Evidently, Malcolm Cowley, then working as a consulting editor at Viking, had gotten hold of the manuscript and gave it to Levy with the justification that she was "the only person under 60" on the editorial staff. Levy read it that night and announced at the next morning's editorial meeting that, "I've read the great American novel, and I don't care what any of you say. We have to publish this book." Her gambit proved successful and, despite being only an assistant editor, she was given control over publishing the novel.
A few tiny spots of soiling to letter, original fold creases. Very nearly fine condition.