|William S. Burroughs
William S. Burroughs at his 69th birthday in 1983.
||February 5, 1914(1914-02-05)
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
||August 2, 1997 (aged 83)
Lawrence, Kansas, U.S.
||Novelist, Short story writer, Essayist
||Beat, Science fiction, Satire
||Ilse von Klapper (1937-1946)
Joan Vollmer (1946-1951)
||William S. Burroughs, Jr.
||William Seward Burroughs I, grandfather
Ivy Lee, maternal uncle
William Seward Burroughs II (February 5, 1914(1914-02-05) – August 2, 1997; pronounced /ˈbʌroʊz/) was an American novelist, essayist, social critic, painter and spoken word performer. Much of Burroughs's work is semi-autobiographical, drawn from his experiences as an opiate addict, a condition that marked the last fifty years of his life. A primary member of the Beat Generation, he was an avant-garde author who affected popular culture as well as literature. In 1984, he was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.
 Early life and education
Burroughs was born in 1914, the younger of two sons born to Mortimer
P. Burroughs (June 16, 1885 – January 5, 1965) and Laura Hammon Lee
(August 5, 1888 – October 20, 1970). The Burroughs were a prominent
family in St. Louis, Missouri. His grandfather, William Seward Burroughs I, founded the Burroughs Adding Machine company, which evolved into the Burroughs Corporation. Burroughs's mother, Laura Hammon Lee, was the daughter of a minister whose family claimed to be related to Robert E. Lee. His maternal uncle, Ivy Lee,
was an advertising pioneer later employed as a publicist for the
Rockefellers. His father, Mortimer Perry Burroughs, ran an antique and
gift shop, Cobblestone Gardens; first in St. Louis, then in Palm Beach, Florida.
Burroughs attended John Burroughs School in St. Louis where his first published essay, "Personal Magnetism," was printed in the John Burroughs Review in 1929. He then attended The Los Alamos Ranch School in New Mexico, which was stressful for him. The school was a boarding school for the wealthy, "where the spindly sons of the rich could be transformed into manly specimens." Burroughs kept journals
documenting an erotic attachment to another boy. These remained
undiscovered, and due to the repressive context where he grew up and
from which he fled, that is, a "family where displays of affection were
he kept his sexual orientation concealed well into adulthood when,
paradoxically, he became a well known homosexual writer after the
publication of Naked Lunch in 1959. He was soon expelled from Los Alamos after taking chloral hydrate in Santa Fe with a fellow student.
 Harvard University
He finished high school at Taylor School in St. Louis and, in 1932, left home to pursue an arts degree at Harvard University. During the summers, he worked as a cub reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch,
even covering the police docket. He disliked the work, and refused to
cover some events like the death of a drowned child. He lost his
virginity in an East St. Louis brothel that summer with a female prostitute he regularly patronized. While at Harvard, Burroughs made trips to New York City and was introduced to the gay subculture there. He visited lesbian dives, piano bars, and the Harlem and Greenwich Village homosexual underground with a wealthy friend from Kansas City,
Richard Stern. They would drive from Boston to New York in a reckless
fashion. Once, Stern scared Burroughs so much, he asked to be let out
of the vehicle.
Burroughs graduated from Harvard University in 1936. According to Ted Morgan's Literary Outlaw,
- His parents, upon his graduation, had decided to give him a monthly
allowance of $200 out of their earnings from Cobblestone Gardens, a
tidy sum in those days. It was enough to keep him going, and indeed it
guaranteed his survival for the next twenty-five years, arriving with
welcome regularity. The allowance was a ticket to freedom; it allowed
him to live where he wanted to and to forgo employment.
Burroughs's parents were not overly wealthy; they had sold the rights to his grandfather's invention and had no share in the Burroughs Corporation. Shortly before the 1929 stock market crash Burroughs's parents sold their stock in the Burroughs Corporation for $200,000.
After leaving Harvard, Burroughs's formal education ended, except for brief flirtations as a graduate student of anthropology at Harvard and as a medical student in Vienna, Austria. He traveled to Europe, which proved a window into Austrian and Hungarian Weimar-Era
homosexuality; he picked up boys in steam baths in Vienna, and moved in
a circle of exiles, homosexuals, and runaways. There, he met Ilse
Klapper, a Jewish woman fleeing the country's Nazi government. The two were never romantically involved, but Burroughs married her, in Croatia, against the wishes of his parents, to allow her to gain a visa to the United States. She made her way to New York City, and eventually divorced Burroughs, although they remained friends for many years.
After returning to the U.S., he held a string of uninteresting jobs. In
1939, his emotional health became a concern for his parents, especially
after he deliberately severed off the last joint of his left little
finger, right at the knuckle, to impress a man with whom he was
infatuated. This event made its way into his early fiction as the short story "The Finger".
 Beginning of the Beats
Burroughs enlisted in the U.S. Army early in 1942, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into World War II.
But when he was classified as a 1-A Infantry, not an officer, he became
dejected. His mother recognized her son's depression and got Burroughs
a civilian disability discharge — a release from duty based on the
premise he should have not been allowed to enlist due to previous
mental instability. After being evaluated by a family friend, who was
also a neurologist at a psychiatric treatment center, Burroughs waited
five months in limbo at Jefferson Barracks outside St. Louis before
being discharged. During that time he met a Chicago soldier also
awaiting release, and once Burroughs was free, he moved to Chicago and
held a variety of jobs, including one as an exterminator. When two of his friends from St. Louis, Lucien Carr, a University of Chicago student, and David Kammerer, Carr's homosexual admirer, left for New York City, Burroughs followed.
 Joan Vollmer
In 1944, Burroughs began living with Joan Vollmer Adams in an apartment they shared with Jack Kerouac and Edie Parker, Kerouac's first wife. Vollmer Adams was married to a GI
with whom she had a young daughter, Julie Adams. Burroughs and Kerouac
got into trouble with the law for failing to report a murder involving
Lucien Carr, who had killed David Kammerer in a confrontation over
Kammerer's incessant and unwanted advances. This incident inspired
Burroughs and Kerouac to collaborate on a novel entitled And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks.
Completed in 1945, the two fledgling authors were unable to get it
published, but the manuscript was finally published in November 2008 by
Grove Press and Penguin Books.
During this time, Burroughs began using morphine and quickly became addicted. He eventually sold heroin in Greenwich Village to support his habit.
Vollmer also became an addict, but her drug of choice was Benzedrine,
an amphetamine sold over the counter at that time. Because of her
addiction and social circle, her husband immediately divorced her after
returning from the war. Vollmer would become Burroughs’ common law wife.
Burroughs was soon arrested for forging a narcotics prescription and
was sentenced to return to his parents' care in St. Louis. Vollmer's
addiction led to a temporary psychosis, which resulted in her admission
to a hospital, and the custody of her child was endangered. Yet after
Burroughs completed his "house arrest" in St. Louis, he returned to New
York, released Vollmer from the psychiatric ward of Bellevue Hospital, and moved with her and her daughter to Texas. Vollmer soon became pregnant with Burroughs's child. Their son, William S. Burroughs, Jr., was born in 1947. The family moved briefly to New Orleans in 1948.
Burroughs was arrested after police searched his home and found letters between him and Allen Ginsberg referring to a possible delivery of marijuana.
 Mexico and South America
Burroughs fled to Mexico to escape possible detention in Louisiana's Angola state prison.
Vollmer and their children followed him. Burroughs planned to stay in
Mexico for at least five years, the length of his charge's statute of limitations. Burroughs also attended classes at Mexico City College in 1950 studying Spanish, "Mexican picture writing" (codices) and the Mayan language.
In 1951, Burroughs shot and killed Vollmer in a drunken game of "William Tell" at a party above the American-owned Bounty Bar in Mexico City.
He spent 13 days in jail before his brother came to Mexico City and
bribed Mexican lawyers and officials, which allowed Burroughs to be
released on bail while he awaited trial for the killing, which was
ruled culpable homicide.
Vollmer’s daughter, Julie Adams, went to live with her grandmother, and
William S. Burroughs, Jr. went to St. Louis to live with his
grandparents. Burroughs reported every Monday morning to the jail in
Mexico City while his prominent Mexican attorney worked to resolve the
case. According to James Grauerholz
two witnesses had agreed to testify that the gun had gone off
accidentally while he was checking to see if it was loaded, and the
ballistics experts were bribed to support this story. Nevertheless, the trial was continuously delayed and Burroughs began to write what would eventually become the short novel Queer
while awaiting his trial. However, when his attorney fled Mexico after
his own legal problems involving a car accident and altercation with
the son of a government official, Burroughs decided, according to Ted Morgan,
to "skip" and return to the United States. He was convicted in absentia
of homicide and sentenced to two years, which was suspended.
Although Burroughs was writing before the shooting of Joan Vollmer,
this event marked him and, biographers argue, his work for the rest of
After leaving Mexico, Burroughs drifted through South America for several months, looking for a drug called Yagé, which promised the user telepathy. A book, composed of letters between Burroughs and Ginsberg, The Yage Letters, was published in 1963 by City Lights Books.
 Birth of a writer
Burroughs later said that shooting Vollmer was a pivotal event in his life, and one which provoked his writing:
I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would never have
become a writer but for Joan's death, and to a realization of the
extent to which this event has motivated and formulated my writing. I
live with the constant threat of possession, and a constant need to
escape from possession, from control. So the death of Joan brought me
in contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit, and maneuvered me into a
life long struggle, in which I have had no choice except to write my
Yet he had begun to write in 1945. Burroughs and Kerouac collaborated on And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, a mystery novel loosely based on the Carr/Kammerer situation that was left unpublished. Years later, in the documentary What Happened to Kerouac?,
Burroughs described it as "not a very distinguished work." An excerpt
of this work, in which Burroughs and Kerouac wrote alternating
chapters, was finally published in Word Virus, a compendium of William Burroughs's writing that was published after his death in 1997.
Before Vollmer died, Burroughs had largely completed his first two novels in Mexico, although Queer would not be published until 1985. Junkie was written at the urging of Allen Ginsberg, who was instrumental in getting the work published, even as a cheap mass market paperback. Ace Books published the novel in 1953 as part of an Ace Double under the pen name William Lee, retitling it Junkie: Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict. (it was later republished as Junkie or Junky). In any case, the fact remains that Burroughs did not become a full time writer until after the shooting.
 Naked Lunch
- For more information, see main article: Naked Lunch
During 1953, Burroughs was at loose ends. Due to legal problems, he
was unable to live in the cities towards which he was most inclined. He
spent time with his parents in Palm Beach, Florida, and New York City with Allen Ginsberg. When Ginsberg refused his romantic advances, Burroughs went to Rome to meet Alan Ansen on a vacation financed from his parents' continuing support. When he found Rome and Ansen’s company dreary, inspired by Paul Bowles' fiction, he decided to head for Tangier, Morocco.
In a home owned by a known procurer of homosexual prostitutes for
visiting American and English men, he rented a room and began to write
a large body of text that he personally referred to as Interzone.
Burroughs lived in Tangier for several months, before returning to the
United States where he suffered several personal indignities - Ginsberg
was in California and refused to see him, A. A. Wyn, the publisher of Junkie,
was not forthcoming with his royalties and his parents were threatening
to cut off his allowance. All signs pointed him back to Tangier, a
place where his parents would have to continue the support and one
where drugs were freely available. He left in November 1954 and spent
the next four years there working on the fiction that would later
become Naked Lunch, as well as attempting to write commercial articles about Tangier. He sent these writings to Ginsberg, his literary agent for Junkie, but none were published until 1989 when Interzone, a collection of short stories, was published. Under the strong influence of a marijuana confection known as majoun and a German-made opioid called Eukodol,
Burroughs settled in to write. Eventually, Ginsberg and Kerouac, who
had traveled to Tangier in 1957, helped Burroughs type, edit, and
arrange these episodes into Naked Lunch.
Whereas Junkie and Queer were conventional in style, Naked Lunch was his first venture into a non-linear style. After the publication of Naked Lunch, a book whose creation was to a certain extent the result of a series of contingencies, Burroughs was exposed to Brion Gysin's cut-up technique at the Beat Hotel in Paris in September 1959. He began slicing up phrases and words to create new sentences.
At the Beat Hotel Burroughs discovered "a port of entry" into Gysin's
canvases: "I don't think I had ever seen painting until I saw the
painting of Brion Gysin."
The two would cultivate a long-term friendship that revolved around a
mutual interest in artworks and cut-up techniques. Scenes were slid
together with little care for narrative. Perhaps thinking of his crazed physician, Dr Benway, he described Naked Lunch as a book that could be cut into at any point. Although not science fiction, the book does seem to forecast — with eerie prescience — such later phenomena as AIDS, liposuction, autoerotic fatalities and the crack pandemic.
Excerpts from Naked Lunch were first published in the United States in 1958. The novel was initially rejected by City Lights Books, the publisher of Ginsberg's Howl, and Olympia Press publisher Maurice Girodias,
who had published English language novels in France that were
controversial for their subjective views of sex and anti-social
characters. But Allen Ginsberg worked to get excerpts published in Black Mountain Review and Chicago Review in 1958. Irving Rosenthal, student editor of Chicago Review, a quarterly journal partially subsidized by the university, promised to publish more excerpts from Naked Lunch, but he was fired from his position in 1958 after Chicago Daily News
columnist Jack Mabley (1915-2006) called the first excerpt obscene.
Rosenthal went on to publish more in his newly created literary journal
Big Table No. 1; however, these copies elicited such contempt,
the editors were accused of sending obscene material through the United
States Mail by the United States Postmaster General, who ruled that copies could not be mailed to subscribers. This controversy made Naked Lunch
interesting to Maurice Girodias again, and he published the novel in
1959. After the novel was published, it slowly became notorious across
Europe and the United States, garnering interest from not just members
of the counterculture of the 1960s, but literary critics such as Mary McCarthy. Once published in the United States, Naked Lunch was prosecuted as obscene by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, followed by other states. In 1966 the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
declared the work "not obscene" on the basis of criteria developed
largely to defend the book. The case against Burroughs's novel still
stands as the last obscenity trial against a work of literature — that
is, a work consisting of words only, and not including illustrations or
photographs — prosecuted in the United States.
The manuscripts that produced Naked Lunch also produced the later works The Soft Machine (1961), The Ticket That Exploded (1962), and Nova Express
(1963). These novels feature extensive use of the cut-up technique,
which influenced all of Burroughs' subsequent fiction to a degree.
During his friendship and artistic collaborations with Brion Gysin and
Ian Sommerville the technique was combined with images, Gysin's
paintings, and sound, via Somerville's tape recorders. Burroughs was so
dedicated to the cut-up method that he often defended his use of the
technique before editors and publishers, most notably Dick Seaver at Grove Press in the 1960s and Holt, Rinehart & Winston
in the 1980s. The cut-up method, because of its random or mechanical
basis for text generation, combined with the possibilities of mixing in
text written by other writers, de-emphasizes the traditional role of
the writer as creator or originator of a string of words, while
simultaneously exalting the importance of the writer's sensibility as
an editor. In this sense the cut-up method may be considered as
analogous to the collage method in the visual arts.
 Paris and the 'Beat Hotel'
Burroughs moved to a run down hotel in Latin Quarter of Paris in 1959 when Naked Lunch
was still looking for a publisher. Tangier with its easy access to
drugs, small groups of homosexuals, growing political unrest and odd
collection of criminals became increasingly unhealthy for Burroughs. He went to Paris to meet Ginsberg and talk with Olympia Press. In so doing, he left a brewing legal problem, which eventually transferred itself to Paris. Paul Lund,
a former British career criminal and cigarette smuggler Burroughs met
in Tangier, was arrested on suspicion of importing narcotics into
France. Lund gave up Burroughs and some evidence implicated Burroughs
in the possible importation into France of narcotics. Once again, the
man faced criminal charges, this time in Paris for conspiracy to import
opiates, when the Moroccan authorities forwarded their investigation to
French officials. Yet it was under this impending threat of criminal
sanction that Maurice Girodias published Naked Lunch, and it was helpful in getting Burroughs a suspended sentence, as a literary career, according to Ted Morgan, is a respected profession in France.
The 'Beat Hotel' was a typical European style rooming house
hotel, with common toilets on every floor, and a small place for
personal cooking in the room. Life there was documented by the
photographer Harold Chapman, who lived in the attic room. This shabby, inexpensive hotel was populated by Gregory Corso, Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky for several months after Naked Lunch
first appeared. The actual process of publication was partly a function
of its 'cut-up' presentation to the printer. Girodias had given
Burroughs only ten days to prepare the manuscript for print galleys,
and Burroughs sent over the manuscript in pieces, preparing the parts
in no particular order. When it was published in this authentically
random manner, Burroughs liked it better than the initial plan.
International rights to the work were sold soon after, and Burroughs
used the $3,000 advance from Grove Press to buy drugs. Naked Lunch was featured in a 1959 Life magazine cover story, partly as an article that highlighted the growing Beat literary movement.
 The London years
Burroughs left Paris for London
in 1966 to take the cure again with Dr. Dent, a well known English
medical doctor who spearheaded a painless heroin withdrawal treatment
using an electronic box affixed to the patient's temple. Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg would take this same cure over a decade later from Dr. Dent's nurse, Smitty.
Though he ultimately relapsed, Burroughs ended up working out of London
for six years, traveling back to the United States on several notable
occasions, including one time escorting his son to Lexington Narcotics
Farm and Prison after the younger Burroughs had been convicted of
prescription fraud in Florida. In the "Afterward" to the compilation of his son's two previously published novels Speed and Kentucky Ham,
Burroughs writes that he thought he had a "small habit" and left London
quickly without any narcotics because he suspected the U.S. customs
would search him very thoroughly on arrival. He claims he went through
the most excruciating two months of opiate withdrawal while seeing his
son through his trial and sentencing, actually traveling with Billy to Lexington, Kentucky from Miami
to ensure his son entered the hospital he once spent time in as a
volunteer admission. This confession, published in 1981, might strike
many readers as proof of Burroughs poor parenting and example, but read
in full light of the difficult circumstances he found himself in, it
seems like some stubborn proof that Burroughs did care enough about his
son to return and see him through the criminal process, even though it
caused him much personal pain. Earlier Burroughs revisited St. Louis, Missouri taking a large advance from Playboy to write an article about his trip back to St. Louis that eventually was published in The Paris Review, after Burroughs refused to alter the style for Playboy's publishers. In 1968 Burroughs joined Jean Genet, John Sack, and Terry Southern in covering the 1968 Democratic National Convention for Esquire
magazine. Southern and Burroughs, who had first become acquainted in
London, would remain lifelong friends and collaborators. In 1972,
Burroughs and Southern unsuccessfully attempted to adapt Naked Lunch for the screen in conjunction with American game show producer Chuck Barris.
Burroughs supported himself and his addiction by publishing pieces
in small literary presses. His avant garde reputation grew
internationally as the hippie counterculture discovered his earlier
works. He developed a close friendship with Anthony Balch and lived
with a young hustler named John Brady who continuously brought home
young women despite Burroughs' protestations. In the midst of this
personal turmoil, Burroughs managed to complete two works: a novel
written in screen play format, The Last Words of Dutch Schulz (1969); and the traditional prose-format novel The Wild Boys (1971).
Burroughs was a fan of Harold S. Schroeppel
and passionately studied the manuscripts that were made available from
the Institute for Advanced Perception. The teachings were known as the
Lessons in Advanced Perception. Copies of these manuscripts along with
four pages of notes exist in the William S. Burroughs archives at Ohio
State University. They are dated February 1960.
In the 1960s Burroughs also joined and left the Church of Scientology.
In talking about the experience, he claimed that the techniques and
philosophy of Scientology helped him and that he felt that further
study into Scientology would produce great results. However, he was
skeptical of the organization itself, and felt that it fostered an
environment that did not accept critical discussion. His subsequent critical writings about the church and his review of Inside Scientology by Robert Kaufman led to a battle of letters between Burroughs and Scientology supporters in the pages of Rolling Stone magazine.
 Exile returns
In 1974, concerned about his friend's well-being, Allen Ginsberg gained for Burroughs a contract to teach creative writing at the City College of New York.
Burroughs successfully withdrew from heroin use and moved to New York.
He eventually found an apartment, affectionately dubbed 'The Bunker',
on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The dwelling was a partially converted YMCA gym, complete with lockers and communal showers. The building fell within New York City rent control
policies that made it extremely cheap; in fact, it was only about four
hundred dollars a month until 1981 when the rent control rules changed,
doubling the rent overnight.
Burroughs chalked up 'teacher' to another one of the jobs he did not
like, as he lasted only a semester teaching; he found the students
uninteresting and without much creative talent. Although he needed
income desperately, he even turned down a teaching position at the University at Buffalo
for $15,000 a semester. "The teaching gig was a lesson in never again.
You were giving out all this energy and nothing was coming back." His savior was the newly arrived, twenty-one-year-old book seller and Beat Generation devotee James Grauerholz, who worked for Burroughs part-time as a secretary as well as in a book store.
It was Grauerholz who floated the idea of reading tours, something
similar to rock and roll touring, or stand-up comedian dates in clubs
across the country. Grauerholz had managed several rock bands in Kansas
and took the lead in booking Burroughs reading tours that would help
support him throughout the next two decades. It raised his public
profile, which eventually aided in obtaining new publishing contracts.
Through Grauerholz, Burroughs became a monthly columnist for the noted
popular culture magazine Crawdaddy, for which he interviewed Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page
in 1975. Thus, Burroughs decided to relocate back to the United States
permanently in 1976. He then began to associate with New York cultural
players Andy Warhol, John Giorno, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, and Susan Sontag, frequently entertaining them at the Bunker. Throughout early 1977, Burroughs collaborated with Southern and Dennis Hopper on a screen adaptation of Junky.
Financed by a reclusive acquaintance of Burroughs, the project lost
traction after financial problems and creative disagreements between
Hopper and Burroughs.
Organized by Columbia professor Sylvère Lotringer,
Giorno, and Grauerholz, the Nova Convention was a multimedia
retrospective of Burroughs's work held from 30 November to 2 December
1978 at various locations throughout New York. The event included
readings from Southern, Ginsberg, Smith, and Frank Zappa (who filled in at the last minute for Keith Richards, then entangled in a legal problem) in addition to panel discussions with Timothy Leary & Robert Anton Wilson and concerts featuring The B-52s, Suicide, Philip Glass, and Debbie Harry & Chris Stein.
In 1976, Billy Burroughs was eating dinner with his father and Allen Ginsberg in Boulder, Colorado at Ginsberg’s Buddhist poetry school (Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics) at Chogyam Trungpa's Naropa University
when he began to vomit blood. Burroughs senior had not seen his son for
over a year and was alarmed at his appearance when Billy arrived at
Ginsberg’s apartment. Although Billy had successfully published two
short novels in the 1970s, and was deemed by literary critics like Ann Charters as a bona fide "second generation beat writer",
his brief marriage to a teenage waitress had disintegrated. Under his
constant drinking, there were long periods where Billy was out of
contact with any of his family or friends. The diagnosis was liver cirrhosis so complete that the only treatment was a rarely performed liver transplant operation. Fortunately, the University of Colorado Medical Center was one of two places in the nation that performed transplants under the pioneering work of Dr. Thomas Starzl.
Billy underwent the procedure and beat the thirty percent survival
odds. His father spent many months in 1976 and 1977 in Colorado,
helping Billy through many additional surgeries and complications. Ted
Morgan’s biography asserts that their relationship was not spontaneous
and lacked real warmth or intimacy. Allen Ginsberg was supportive to
both Burroughs and his son throughout the long period of recovery.
In London, he had begun to write what would become the first novel of a three book trilogy. Between 1981 and 1987 he published Cities of the Red Night (1981), The Place of Dead Roads (1983) and The Western Lands (1987). Grauerholz helped edit Cities
when it was first rejected by Burroughs’ long-time editor Dick Seaver
at Holt Rinehart, after it was deemed too disjointed. The novel was
written as a straight narrative and then chopped up into a more random
pattern leaving the reader to sort through the characters and events.
This technique was definitely different than earlier cut-up methods
which were organically accidental from the start. Nevertheless, the
novel was reassembled and published, still without a straight linear
form, but with fewer breaks in the story. The back and forth sway of
the read replicated the theme of the trilogy, time travel adventures
where Burroughs’ narrators re-write episodes in history and thus reform
mankind. Reviews were mixed for Cities. Novelist and critic Anthony Burgess panned the work in Saturday Review, saying Burroughs was boring readers with repetitive episodes of pederast fantasy and sexual strangulation that lacked any comprehensible world view or theology, but other writers, like J. G. Ballard, argued Burroughs was shaping a new literary "mythography".
In 1981, Billy Burroughs died in Florida. He had cut off contact
with his father several years before, even publishing an article in Esquire
magazine claiming the author had poisoned his life and revealing that
he had been molested by one of his father's friends as a
fourteen-year-old while visiting his father in Tangier, something that
he had previously kept to himself. The liver transplant
had not cured his urge to drink and Billy suffered from serious health
complications years after the operation. He had stopped taking his transplant rejection
drugs, and was found near the side of a Florida highway by a stranger.
He died shortly afterwards. Burroughs was in New York when he heard
from Allen Ginsberg of the tragedy.
Burroughs himself, by 1979, was once again addicted to heroin.
The cheap heroin that was easily purchased outside his door in the
Lower East Side "made its way" into his veins, coupled with "gifts"
from the overzealous if well-intentioned admirers who frequently
visited the Bunker. Although Burroughs would have episodes of being
free from heroin, from this point until his death, he was regularly
addicted to the drug. He died in 1997 on a methadone maintenance program. In an introduction to Last Words: The Final Journals of William S. Burroughs
James Grauerholz (who managed Burroughs reading tours in the 80s and
90s) mentions that part of his job was to deal with the “underworld” in
each city to secure the author’s needed drugs.
 Later years in Kansas
Burroughs moved to Lawrence, Kansas, in 1981 and lived the remainder of his life there. In 1984 he signed a seven-book deal with Viking Press after he signed with literary agent Andrew Wylie. This deal included the publication rights to the 1953 unpublished novel Queer. With this money he purchased a small bungalow for $29,000. He was finally inducted into the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1983 after several attempts by Allen Ginsberg to get him accepted. He attended the induction ceremony in May 1983. Lawrence Ferlinghetti remarked the induction of Burroughs into the Academy proved Herbert Marcuse's point that capitalistic society had a great ability to incorporate its one-time outsiders.
By late 1980s, Burroughs had become a counterculture figure and collaborated with performers ranging from Bill Laswell's Material and Laurie Anderson to Throbbing Gristle, Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy and Ministry, and in Gus Van Sant's 1989 film Drugstore Cowboy, playing a character based on a short story he published in Exterminator!, "the "Priest" they called him". In 1990, he released the spoken word album Dead City Radio, with musical back-up from producers Hal Willner and Nelson Lyon, and alternative rock band Sonic Youth. A collaboration with musicians Nick Cave and Tom Waits resulted in a collection of short prose, Smack My Crack, later released as a spoken word album in 1987. He also collaborated with Tom Waits and director Robert Wilson to create The Black Rider, a play which opened at the Thalia Theatre in Hamburg
in 1990, to critical acclaim, and was later performed all over Europe
and the U.S. In 1991, with Burroughs's sanction, director David Cronenberg took on the seemingly impossible task of adapting Naked Lunch into a full-length feature film. The film opened to critical acclaim. He became a member of a chaos magic organization, the Illuminates of Thanateros in 1993, a group whose very existence would not have been possible without Burroughs's works.
During his later years in Kansas, Burroughs also developed a
painting technique whereby he created abstract compositions by placing
spray paint cans in front of, and some distance from, blank canvasses,
and then shooting at the paint cans with a shotgun. These splattered
canvasses were shown in at least one New York City gallery in the early
Burroughs's final filmed performance was in the video for "Last
Night on Earth" by Irish rock band U2, filmed in Kansas City, Missouri,
directed by Richie Smyth and also featuring Sophie Dahl.
Burroughs died in Lawrence, at 6:50 p.m. on August 2, 1997 from complications of a heart attack he had suffered the previous day. He was interred in the family plot in Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri,
with a marker bearing his full name and the epitaph "American Writer."
The grave lies to the right of the white granite obelisk of William Seward Burroughs I (1857-1898).
 After his death
Since 1997, several posthumous collections of Burroughs's work have
been published. A few months after his death, a collection of writings
spanning his entire career, Word Virus, was published (according to the book's introduction, Burroughs himself approved its contents prior to his death). Aside from numerous previously released pieces, Word Virus also included one of the few surviving fragments of And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks,
an unpublished novel by Burroughs and Kerouac. A collection of journal
entries written during the final months of Burrough's life was
published as the book Last Words in 2000. Publication of a memoir by Burroughs entitled Evil River by Viking Press has been delayed several times; after initially being announced for a 2005 release, Web retailers such as Amazon.com indicated a 2007 release, complete with an ISBN number (ISBN 0670813516), but no such release has, to date, occurred. In December 2007, Ohio State University Press released Everything Lost: The Latin American Journals of William S. Burroughs. Edited by Oliver Harris, the book contains transcriptions of journal entries made by Burroughs during the time of composing Queer and The Yage Letters. In addition, special editions of The Yage Letters, Naked Lunch and Junkie/Junky have been published in recent years, all containing additional material and essays on the works.
In March 2008, Penguin Books announced that the Kerouac/Burroughs manuscript, And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks was published for the first time in November 2008. Previously, a fragment of the manuscript had been published in the compendium, Word Virus.
 Literary style and periods
Burroughs's major works can be divided into four different periods.
The dates refer to the time of writing, not publication, which in some
cases was not until decades later:
- Early Work (early 1950s): Junkie, Queer and The Yage Letters are relatively straightforward linear narratives, written in and about Burrough's time in Mexico City and South America.
- The Cut-Up Period (mid 1950s to mid 1960s): Naked Lunch is a fragmentary collection of "routines" from The Word Hoard
- manuscripts written in Tangier, Paris, London, as well as of some
other texts written in South America such as "The Composite City",
blending into the cut-up and fold-in fiction also heavily drawn from The Word Hoard: The Soft Machine, Nova Express, The Ticket That Exploded, also referred to as "The Nova Trilogy" or "the Nova Epic", self-described by Burroughs as an attempt to create "a mythology for the space age". Interzone also derives from this period.
- Experiment & Subversion (mid 1960s to mid 1970s): This
period saw Burroughs continue experimental writing with increased
political content and branching into multimedia such as film and sound
recording. The only major novel written in this period was The Wild Boys,
but he also wrote dozens of published articles, short stories, scrap
books and other works, several in collaboration with Brion Gyson. The
major anthologies representing work from this period are The Burroughs File, The Adding Machine and Exterminator!.
- The Red Night Trilogy (mid 1970s to mid 1980s): The books Cities of the Red Night, The Place of Dead Roads and The Western Lands came from Burroughs in a final, mature stage, creating a complete mythology.
Burroughs has also produced numerous essays and a large body of
autobiographical material, including a book with a detailed account of
his own dreams (My Education: A Book of Dreams).
 Reaction to critics and view on criticism
Several literary critics treated Burroughs's work harshly. For example Anatole Broyard and Philip Toynbee wrote devastating reviews of some of his most important books. In a short essay entitled A Review of the Reviewers, Burroughs answers his critics in this way:
Critics constantly complain that writers are lacking in standards,
yet they themselves seem to have no standards other than personal
prejudice for literary criticism. (...) such standards do exist. Matthew Arnold
set up three criteria for criticism: 1. What is the writer trying to
do? 2. How well does he succeed in doing it? (...) 3. Does the work
exhibit "high seriousness"? That is, does it touch on basic issues of
good and evil, life and death and the human condition. I would also
apply a fourth criterion (...) Write about what you know. More writers fail because they try to write about things they don't know than for any other reason.
– William S. Burroughs, 'A Review of the Reviewers 
Burroughs clearly indicates here that he prefers to be evaluated
against such criteria over being reviewed based on the reviewer's
personal reactions to a certain book. Always a contradictory figure,
Burroughs nevertheless criticized Anatole Broyard for reading authorial intentionality
into his works where there is none, which sets him at odds both with
New Criticism and the old school as represented by Mathew Arnold.
Burroughs is often called one of the greatest and most influential writers of the twentieth century, most notably by Norman Mailer
whose quote on Burroughs, "The only American novelist living today who
may conceivably be possessed by genius", appears on many Burroughs
publications. Others, however, consider him overrated. Others still
consider his concepts and attitude more influential than his prose. Prominent admirers of Burroughs's work have included British critic and biographer Peter Ackroyd, the rock critic Lester Bangs and the authors J. G. Ballard, Angela Carter, Jean Genet, William Gibson, Charles Bukowski, Alan Moore, and Ken Kesey.
Burroughs continues to be named as an influence by contemporary writers of fiction. Both the New Wave and, especially, the cyberpunk schools of science fiction are indebted to him, admirers from the late 1970s, early 1980s milieu of this sub-genre including William Gibson and John Shirley, to name only two. First published in 1982, the British slipstream fiction magazine (which later evolved into a more traditional science fiction magazine) Interzone paid tribute to him with its choice of name. He is also cited as a major influence by musicians Patti Smith, Genesis P-Orridge, Ian Curtis, Laurie Anderson, and Kurt Cobain.
The themes of drugs, homosexuality and death, common to Burroughs's routines, are taken up by Dennis Cooper,
of whom Burroughs said, "Dennis Cooper, God help him, is a born
writer." Cooper, in return, wrote, in his essay 'King Junk', "along
with Jean Genet, John Rechy, and Ginsberg, [Burroughs] helped make homosexuality seem cool and highbrow, providing gay liberation with a delicious edge." Splatterpunk writer Poppy Z. Brite
has also continuously referenced this aspect of Burroughs's work.
Burroughs's works continue to be referenced years after his death; for
example, a November 2004 episode of the TV series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
included an evil character named Dr. Benway (named for an amoral
physician who appears in a number of Burroughs's works). This is an
echo of the hospital scene in the movie Repo Man, made during Burroughs's lifetime, in which both Dr. Benway and Mr. Lee (a Burroughs pen name) are paged.
Burroughs was cited by Robert Anton Wilson as the first person to notice the "23 Enigma":
I first heard of the 23 enigma from William S. Burroughs, author of
Naked Lunch, Nova Express, etc. According to Burroughs, he had known a
certain Captain Clark, around 1960 in Tangier, who once bragged that he
had been sailing 23 years without an accident. That very day, Clark’s
ship had an accident that killed him and everybody else aboard.
Furthermore, while Burroughs was thinking about this crude example of
the irony of the gods that evening, a bulletin on the radio announced
the crash of an airliner in Florida, USA. The pilot was another captain
Clark and the flight was Flight 23.
—Robert Anton Wilson, Fortean Times
 Appearances in media
 In music
Burroughs participated on numerous album releases by Giorno Poetry Systems, including The Nova Convention (featuring Frank Zappa, John Cage, and Philip Glass) and You're the Guy I Want to Share My Money With (with John Giorno and Laurie Anderson). He is featured in a spoken word piece entitled "Sharkey's Night" on Laurie Anderson's album Mister Heartbreak. In addition, Burroughs provided vocal samples for the soundtrack of Anderson's 1986 concert film, Home of the Brave, and made a cameo appearance in it. He also recites the lyrics of R.E.M.'s "Star Me Kitten" for a special version of the song on the Songs in the Key of X: Music from and Inspired by the X-Files soundtrack.
In 1990, Island Records released Dead City Radio, a collection of readings set to a broad range of musical compositions. It was produced by Hal Willner and Nelson Lyon, with musical accompaniment from John Cale, Donald Fagen, Lenny Pickett, Chris Stein, Sonic Youth, and others. The remastered edition of Sonic Youth's album Goo includes a longer version of "Dr. Benway's House," which had appeared, in shorter form, on Dead City Radio.
In 1992 he recorded "Quick Fix" with Ministry,
which appeared on their single for "Just One Fix." The single featured
cover art by Burroughs and a remix of the song dubbed the "W.S.B. mix."
Burroughs also made an appearance in the video for "Just One Fix."
On the album The Priest They Called Him, Burroughs reads the short story of the same name, while Kurt Cobain creates layers of guitar feedback and distortions. Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic is featured on the cover as the titular "Priest."
Burroughs appears near the end of U2's music video Last Night on Earth, pushing a shopping cart with a large spotlight positioned inside it. The video ends with a close up of his eyes.
"Stoned Immaculate: The Music Of The Doors" released in 2000
features a psychedelic Burroughs reading titled "Is Everybody In."
Several pop-culture "grunge era" musicians are featured as well; such
as: Days of the New, Smash Mouth, The Cult, Stone Temple Pilots and
 In film and television
Burroughs played Opium Jones in the 1966 Conrad Rooks cult film Chappaqua, which also featured cameo roles by Allen Ginsberg, Moondog, and others. In 1968, an abbreviated—77 minutes as opposed to the original's 104 minutes—version of Benjamin Christensen's 1922 film Häxan was released subtitled Witchcraft Through The Ages. This version, produced by Anthony Balch, featured an eclectic jazz score by Daniel Humair, and narration by William S. Burroughs. He also made a number of short films in the 1960s, directed by Balch.
Burroughs narrated part of the 1980 documentary Shamans of the Blind Country by anthropologist and filmmaker Michael Oppitz. He gave a reading on Saturday Night Live on 7 November 1981, in an episode hosted by Lauren Hutton.
Burroughs subsequently made cameo appearances in a number of other films and videos, such as David Blair's Wax: or the Discovery of Television among the Bees, in which he plays a beekeeper, in an elliptic story about the first Gulf War, and Decoder by Klaus Maeck. He played an aging junkie priest in Gus Van Sant's 1989 film Drugstore Cowboy. He also appears briefly at the beginning of Van Sant's Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (based on the Tom Robbins novel)
in which he is seen crossing a city street; as the noise of the city
rises around him he pauses in the middle of the intersection and speaks
the single word "ominous". Van Sant's short film "Thanksgiving Prayer"
features Burroughs reading the poem "Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28, 1986,"
from Tornado Alley, intercut with a collage of black and white images.
A documentary titled Burroughs, directed by Howard Brookner, was released in 1984. It included footage of Burroughs and many of his friends and colleagues.
Near the end of his life, recordings of Burroughs reading his short
stories "A Junky's Christmas" and "Ah Pook is Here" were used to great
effect on the soundtracks of two highly acclaimed animated film
 As a fictional character
Burroughs was fictionalized in Jack Kerouac's autobiographical novel On the Road as "Old Bull Lee".
In the 2004 novel Move Under Ground, Burroughs, Neal Cassady, and Kerouac team up to defeat Cthulhu.
Burroughs appears in the first part of The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson during the 1968 Democratic Convention riots
and is described as a person devoid of anger, passion, indignation or
hope or any other humanly recognizable emotion. He is presented as a
polar opposite of Allen Ginsberg, as Ginsberg believed in everything and Burroughs believed in nothing. Robert Anton Wilson would recount in his Cosmic Trigger Vol II his having interviewed both Burroughs and Ginsberg for Playboy
the day the riots began as well as his experiences with Robert Shea
during the riots, providing some detail on the creation of the
 Band names
Burroughs's work has inspired the name of several musical groups over the years. The most widely known of these is Steely Dan, a group named after a dildo in Naked Lunch. Also from Naked Lunch came the name The Mugwumps. The band Soft Machine took its name from the Burroughs novel of the same name, while alt-country band Clem Snide is named for a Burroughs character. Proto-punk band Dead Fingers Talk from Hull, England, took their name from the novel of the same name, and their only album was titled Storm the Reality Studios, after a quote from Nova Express.
 Further reading
- Charters, Ann (ed.). The Portable Beat Reader. Penguin Books. New York. 1992. ISBN 0-670-83885-3 (hc); ISBN 0-14-015102-8 (pbk)
- Miles, Barry. William Burroughs: El Hombre Invisible, A Portrait, New York: Hyperion, 1992.
- Gilmore, John. Laid Bare: A Memoir of Wrecked Lives and the Hollywood Death Trip. Searching for Rimbaud. Amok Books, 1997.
- Harris, Oliver. William S. Burroughs and the Secret of Fascination, Carbondale, IL: Souther Illinois University Press, 2003.
- Schneiderman, Davis and Philip Walsh. Retaking the Universe: William S. Burroughs in the Age of Globalization, London: Pluto Press, 2004.
The following is cited repeatedly in the footnotes:
- Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S.Burroughs. New York: Avon, 1988. ISBN 0-805-00901-9
- ^ William S Burroughs. Popsubculture.com's Biography.
- ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p.44.
- ^ Morgan, Ted, Literary Outlaw, p. 26
- ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p.62.
- ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p.611
- ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p.65
- ^ a b Severo, Richard (August 3, 1997). "William S. Burroughs Dies at 83; Member of the Beat Generation Wrote 'Naked Lunch'". New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=950DEED6123DF930A3575BC0A961958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all. Retrieved on 2007-10-22.
- ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. pp 65-8
- ^ Grauerholz, James. Introduction p. xv, in William Burroughs. Interzone. New York: Viking Press, 1987.
- ^ Grauerholz, James. "The Death of Joan Vollmer Burroughs: What Really Happened?". American Studies Department, University of Kansas. lawrence.com. http://www.lawrence.com/news/2003/dec/09/the_death/. Retrieved on 2008-07-28.
- ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p. 202.
- ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p. 214.
- ^ Morgan, Ted, Literary Outlaw, pp. 197-198
- ^ Queer, Penguin, 1985 p.xxiii
- ^ a b c James Grauerholz. Word Virus, New York: Grove, 1998
- ^ Bill Morgan, I Celebrate Myself, 2006, New York Viking Press, p.159
- ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p.232-34.
- ^ James Grauerholz writes in Interzone, the body of text that Burroughs was working on was called Interzone, see Burroughs, William S. Interzone. "Introduction", p.ix-xiii. New York: Viking Press, 1987.
- ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p.238-42.
- ^ Miles, Barry "The Inventive Mind of Brion Gysin" in José Férez Kuri (ed) Brion Gysin: Tuning in to the Multimedia Age, London: Thames and Hudson, 2003, p.124-125.
- ^ Burroughs, William S., Ports of Entry - Here is Space-Time Painting, p.32.
- ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p.355.
- ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p. 425.
- ^ Grauerholz, James. Introduction p. xviii, in William Burroughs. Interzone. New York: Viking Press, 1987.
- ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p.316-326.
- ^ Stratton, Richard. "Keith Richards Interview 1978". High Times Reader. Thunder's Mouth, Nation Books: New York, 2004.
- ^ Burroughs, William, S. "Afterward". Speed/Kentucky Ham: Two Novels. Overlook Press: New York, 1984.
- ^ Lee Hill A Grand Guy: The Art and Life of Terry Southern.
- ^ Harold S. Schroeppel - Obituary
- ^ WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS PAPERS,The Ohio State University, University Libraries, Rare Books and Manuscripts, SPEC.CMS.40, Box #48, Item # 482
- ^ Burroughs on Scientology, Los Angeles Free Press, 6 Mar 1970.
- ^ Bockris, Victor. With William Burroughs: A Report From the Bunker. St. Martin's Griffin, New York: 1996
- ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p. 477.
- ^ Charters, Ann. "Introduction". Speed/Kentucky Ham: Two Novels. Overlook Press: New York, 1984.
- ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p. 495-536.
- ^ a b Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p. 565.
- ^ Burroughs, William. "Introduction". Last Words: The Final Journals of William S. Burroughs. New York: Grove Press, 2000.
- ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p.596.
- ^ Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. p.577.
- ^ The Illuminates of Thanateros. 1993, available online at: Magick and Photography, Douglas Grant, Ashé Journal 2(3)
- ^ William S. Burroughs: Overview from msn.com
- ^ William S. Burroughs at Find A Grave
- ^ Reality Studio.org: Evil River-A Burroughs Memoir?, a 2005 discussion on the origin of this book.
- ^ Amazon.ca listing, with cover art and review information.
- ^ Chris Hastings and Beth Jones, "New Jack Kerouac book to be published, The Telegraph, 2 March 2008 (accessed 3 March 2008)
- ^ Burroughs, William S. The Adding Machine: Selected Essays. Arcade Publishing, 1993
- ^ Robert Anton Wilson (2007-05). "The 23 Phenomenon". Fortean Times. http://forteantimes.com/features/commentary/396/the_23_phenomenon.html. Retrieved on 2008-09-25.
- ^ Mark Bourne (2001). "Häxan / Witchcraft Through the Ages: The Criterion Collection". DVD Journal. http://www.dvdjournal.com/reviews/h/haxan_cc.shtml. Retrieved on 2008-10-24.
- ^ U B U W E B : William S. Burroughs Films
- ^ Ausgewählte Publikationen von Michael Oppitz from the website of the Ethnographic Museum of the University of Zürich
- ^ Decoder (1984) from IMDb
- ^ FAQ from the Official Steely Dan website
 External links
||Burroughs, William S.
||Burroughs, William Seward II; Lee, William (pseudonym)
||American novelist, essayist
|DATE OF BIRTH
||February 5, 1914
|PLACE OF BIRTH
||St. Louis, Missouri
|DATE OF DEATH
||August 2, 1997
|PLACE OF DEATH
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