The Haunted Life was a manuscript in 1944, and at some point during what was a very tumultuous year for Kerouac he misplaced it. The manuscript was discovered by someone in a closet at Columbia University, which makes sense, because in October of 1944, Kerouac spent some time staying in Allen Ginsberg’s room at Columbia and most likely left the manuscript there. In June of 2002 the manuscript materialized again in a Sotheby’s catalog auction. It sold to an unnamed bidder for approximately $96,000.
In 2011 I was giving the keynote at the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac festival when I received an e-mail from the literary executor of the Kerouac estate, John Sampas. He asked if I would like to stop by and look at the materials that were in his archives. He showed me The Haunted Life manuscript, and he allowed me to have a copy of it. Several months later, I contacted John to talk about publishing it.
One of the things that appealed to me about the manuscript is that we see Kerouac portraying these friendships based on his friends in Lowell that I think were foundational. It’s one of those stories in which we get to see young people in their idealistic youth before the realities of, I suppose, life and adulthood [take hold].
[Most people] associate Kerouac with On the Road, which is about, of course, being on the road and the quest for meaning. It’s a book about young people searching America for the meaning of America, for something [to which] they might be able to anchor their horizon. But there’s this other side of Kerouac’s work that’s very rooted. In The Haunted Life, we see this figure who is pulled in two different directions — desiring to root himself somewhere but, at the same time, desiring to keep moving and experiencing new things. — As told to Rachel Deahl (Interview has been edited and condensed.)