'On the Road' Turns 50 Amid Controversy

The 50th anniversary of Jack Kerouac's generation-defining novel "On the Road" is approaching, but among those closely linked to the writer, it's accompanied by as much acrimony as celebration.

Gerald Nicosia, wrote the 1983 biography, "Memory Babe," which has been described by Library Journal as "the definitive Kerouac biography." But the current executor of Kerouac's estate is trying to erase Nicosia as a source for Kerouac scholarship.

Nicosia accuses John Sampas of telling authors interested in using materials from Kerouac's estate that they will not receive authorization if they cite Nicosia in their works. He also claims that Sampas had references to him and his biography removed from recently written books about Kerouac and other beat authors and poets.

Nicosia supported Kerouac's daughter, Jan, against Sampas in a controversial 1994 case over the ownership of the author's writings, and said that Sampas is seeking revenge.

"I have evidence that Viking Penguin Publishers is deliberately removing my name from books on the beat generation and Jack Kerouac, deliberately keeping out references to me, my Kerouac biography, "Memory Babe," and my beat scholarship in any place and any literary text that they can get away with doing so," Nicosia said yesterday.

He added that three new books to be published by Viking Penguin in honor of the "On the Road" anniversary, as well as a recently released book on the life of poet Allen Ginsburg, lift material from "Memory Babe" without properly acknowledging it.

In unpublished galleys of "I Celebrate Myself," Bill Morgan's biography of beat poet and Kerouac friend Allan Ginsberg, Morgan refers directly to the famous poet admiring "Memory Babe," Nicosia said.

In the published edition, however, rather than mentioning Nicosia by name, the book simply references a "new Kerouac biography."

Publisher: No Conspiracy

Viking Penguin publisher Paul Slovak insisted there was no conspiracy to remove references to Nicosia in Morgan's book or the upcoming Kerouac biography "Why Kerouac Matters: The Lessons of On the Road (They're Not What You Think)," by New York Times reporter John Leland.

"Everything [Nicosia] says is untrue," Slovak told ABCNEWS.com.

"He's been making these allegations against Viking and the Kerouac family for years. He sees himself as an expert, and feels he should be mentioned in every book."

Slovak said it was normal for the publishing house to commission and print new books. Authors of previous books, he said, rarely complain that new authors are writing on the same topic without referencing them.

Sampas also denied Nicosia's allegations.

"He just wants attention because he feels slighted. … I have no control over what scholars do. I write none of these books. I would never feel comfortable telling a scholar, which I am not, how to put a book together. That's not my role."

Jan Kerouac died in 1996 before a court could determine whether she was entitled to her father's estate. Jack turned over his estate to his mother, Gabrielle, upon his death in 1969. She in turn allegedly left it to Kerouac's third wife, Stella Sampas Kerouac, who turned it over to her brother, Jack's brother-in-law, John Sampas. Before her death, Jan claimed her grandmother's will was a forgery.

Viking Penguin plans to release a commemorative edition of "On the Road" this September. The so-called "scroll" edition will make use of the original manuscript written on a continuous scroll of teletype paper that Kerouac frenetically typed on so he would not be slowed down by removing sheets of typing paper. The original published version of the book was heavily edited.

Viking has hired four new scholars to write an introduction to the book. According to Slovak, "They are under no obligation to reference [Nicosia]."

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