William S. Burroughs

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William Seward Burroughs. Author.

Born February 5, 1914, St. Louis, Missouri
Died August 2, 1997, Lawrence, Kansas

Author William Seward Burroughs was the grandson of the William Seward Burroughs who founded the Burroughs Adding Machine company, which evolved into the Burroughs Corporation. Burroughs' mother, Laura Lee Burroughs, was the daughter of a distinguished minister whose family claimed to be descendants of Robert E. Lee.

He has long been associated with Beat writers such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. His most famous for writing Naked Lunch and for "cut-up" technique of using pieces of various texts to create a new one.

He attended Harvard University and graduated in 1936. He summarized his college experience in the prologue to Junkie, "I hated the University and I hated the town it was in. Everything about the place was dead. The University was a fake English setup taken over by the graduates of fake English public schools..."

In 1944, Burroughs began living with Joan Vollmer in an apartment they shared with Kerouac and Edie Parker, Kerouac's first wife. Burroughs divorced his first wife, IIse Krabbe, and married Vollmer in 1946. Their son, William S. Burroughs, Jr., was born in 1947 in Texas. On September 6, 1951 in Mexico City, Burroughs accidentally shot and killed his wife during a drunken attempt to imitate William Tell's feat of shooting an apple off his son's head and was charged with criminal imprudence. He was forced to leave Mexico in 1952 as a result of the shooting. He toured South America for several months, then settled in Tangier, Morocco, where he lived for the next twenty-four years. It was in Tangier that he began to develop what was to become a characteristic feature of his writing after Brion Gysin introduced him to the cut-up technique.

In 1956, Burroughs attempted to cure his ongoing drug addiction with the help of John Dent, a London physician. After completing treatment, he finished Naked Lunch, with the help of Ginsberg and Kerouac. After it was published, the book was prosecuted as obscene by the state of Massachusetts, followed by other states forcing the book to be published in [Italy]]. In 1966 the Massachusetts Supreme Court declared the work "not obscene" based on criteria developed, largely, to defend the book. This opened the door for others works like Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer, James Joyce's Ulysses, and D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover, to be published in the United States.

In the 1970s he moved back to New York City where he was sought out by a diverse cast of New York cultural players, including Andy Warhol and Mick Jagger.

In the 1980s and '90s Burroughs became pop culture icon appealing to punk rock artists, appearing with recording artists ranging from Laurie Anderson to Ministry, and in films such as Gus Van Sant's Drugstore Cowboy.

He has been called one of the greatest writers of the 20th century - others consider his writing overrated. Perhaps his great legacy has been in the creative inspiration he has offered to writers, musicians and those in the visual arts.

William S. Burroughs died at his home in Lawrence, Kansas, at 6:50 p.m., August 2, 1997 from the complications of the previous day's heart attack.


'Language is a virus'.
'When I become death, death is the seed from which I grow.'
"Nothing is true. Everything is permitted."
"Words, colors, light, sound, stone, wood, bronze belong to the living artist. They belong to anyone who can use them. Loot the Louvre! ... Steal anything in sight...."
General procedure: Read and learn all you can about problem. Look at problem from a point of zero preconception. Devise variations and alternative solutions. Check back to see if your solution has workable advantage over solutions previously arrived at . . . 'To carry the method a step further than solution of purely technical problem where purpose is implicit in the artifact: devising more efficient gun, tool, boat, signal system, medical or interrogation procedure.
I awoke from The Sickness at the age of forty-five, calm and sane, and in reasonably good health except for a weakened liver and the look of borrowed flesh common to all who survive The Sickness. . . When I speak of drug addiction I do not refer to keif, marijuana or any preparation of hashish, mescaline, Bannisteria Caapi, LSD6, Sacred Mushrooms or any other drugs of the hallucinogen group. . . . There is no evidence that the use of any hallucinogen results in physical dependence...


  • Junkie (1953) - published under the pen name of William Lee
  • Naked Lunch (1959)
  • Minutes To Go (1950)
  • The Soft Machine (1961)
  • The Ticket That Exploded (1962)
  • Nova Express (1964)
  • The Last Words of Dutch Schultz (1970)
  • The Wild Boys (1971)
  • The Job (1970)
  • Port of Saints (1975)
  • Exterminator (1973)
  • Ah Pook is Here, Nova Express, Cities of the Red Night (1981)
  • The Place of Dead Roads (1983)

External Links

If you like Burroughs, or if you almost like Burroughs but he's a little strong for you, you may also want to take a look at Philip K. Dick.