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William S Burroughs

Biographical Notes

  William Seward Burroughs II was born

5 February 1914, in St. Louis, Missouri, into a world of relative wealth and comfort from the profits of the Burroughs Adding Machine Corporation. His grandfather, after whom he was named, was the inventor of the adding machine.

[ there's more biography below this image...]

William S. Burroughs

tribute to william s. burroughs
 collage by patrick deese

  At 8 years of age, uses his first gun, writes first story, "The Autobiography of a Wolf." Refuses editorial advice of parents to change autobiography to biography.

  When Burroughs is 13, he discovers the autobiography of

Jack Black, You Can't Win, and becomes enamored of the outlaw, underground lifestyle. Black introduces him to the idea of the being a member of the Johnson Family.

  First published in the John Burroughs Review in 1929. A short essay entitled "Personal Magnetism". He considers it an early attempt at debunking control systems.

  Sent to Los Alamos Boys School in New Mexico. Later claims the only thing he learned there was a hatred of horses.

  He is graduated from Harvard in 1936.

  In New York, 1939, cuts off left little finger. Shows it to his analyst at the time, who takes him to Bellevue. Burroughs tells a psychiatrist there that he did as part of "an initiation ceremony into the Crow Indian tribe".

  In the Summer of 1942, moves to Chicago, takes job with A. J. Cohen, Exterminators. "I go into an apartment and I know where all the roaches are," he later claims.

  Moves to New York the next year. Befriends Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Lucien Carr and David Kammerer around this time.

  On 13 August 1944, Lucien Carr kills David Kammerer in self defense. Kerouac and Burroughs are arrested as material witnesses because they did not initially report the murder. Later, they collaborate on a novel based on the events, And the Hippos Were Boiled in their Tanks. It was rejected by several publishers at the time and has never been published.

  Burroughs meets Joan Vollmer. Along with Ginsberg and Kerouac, they begin experimenting with drugs and extreme behaviors. Meets Herbert Huncke around this time. Kerouac introduces Joan to Benzedrine inhalers, to which she soon becomes addicted.

  Sometime in 1946, Burroughs injects himself with a morphine Syrette. Discovers junk ecstasy, begins addiction. In the midst of junk despair, Burroughs has a vision of a cocktail waitress bringing him a skull on a tray. "I don't want your fucking skull," he says. "Take it back!"

  Moves in with Joan, they become lovers. Joan tells him that he "makes love like a pimp."

  In April of 1946, Burroughs is arrested for obtaining narcotics through fraud.

  Joan is committed to Bellevue for acute amphetamine psychosis. Burroughs attempts to rescue her from New York. William Burroughs III conceived.

  Convinces her to move to East Texas with him. Huncke eventually moves in with them. All three live in a small house near New Waverly, growing marijuana and laying low. On 21 July 1947, William Burroughs III is born.

  Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady visit in August of 1947.

  The Burroughs' move to New Orleans in 1948. Kerouac and Cassady visit, as immortalized in

On the Road.

  Burroughs is arrested in New Orleans for possession of drugs, elects not to stand trial, moves family to Mexico City in 1949.

  On Thursday the 6th of September, 1951, at a desultory party, Burroughs suggests that he and Joan do their William Tell act. Joan balances a highball glass on her head, turns her head to one side, saying, "I can't watch this- you know I can't stand the sight of blood." Burroughs shoots and hits Joan in the side of the head, killing her. Later he states: "I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would never have become a writer but for Joan's death."

  Burroughs travels to Columbia in 1953 to find the entheogenic vine Yage, meets Richard Evans Schultes, who councils him about the plant. Writes to Ginsberg about his experiences, which are later published as

The Yage Letters.

  In 1954, Burroughs moves to Tangiers, Morocco. Introduced to Paul Bowles. Meets Brion Gysin, who becomes a pivotal catalyst for Burroughs. Begins initial forays into unleashing his word hoard and deeper addictions to junk.

  Kerouac, Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky visit him in 1956. Kerouac helps Burroughs to organize the "routines" that would later become

The Naked Lunch, the title from a suggestion of Kerouac's years before.

  Early in 1958, sick of Tangiers, he leaves to stay with Ginsberg in Paris. Meets

Maurice Girodias of Olympia Press, who decides to publish

The Naked Lunch in 1959.

  Moves to London in 1960. Back in Tangiers in August of 1961, with Ginsberg and others, meets Timothy Leary who gives them all mushrooms. Burroughs doesn't enjoy the experience, saying: "Urgent warning. I think I'll stay here in shriveling envelopes of larval flesh... One of the nastiest cases ever produced by this department."

  Writes prolifically and lives nomadically throughout 60's, returns to New York in 1974. He has not lived in the US for 24 years. Meets James Grauerholz, who becomes Burroughs' life manager, helping him to organize and publish his writings.

  Burroughs' son, Billy, dies in a ditch after a hard and lonely life on 3 March 1981.

  Burroughs moves to Lawrence, Kansas with Grauerholz.

  In May of 1982, Burroughs is inducted into the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

  Died on 2 August 1997 of a heart attack in Lawrence, Kansas. He was 83 years old.


  • "Horses are a dying artifact."

  • "Every man has inside himself a parasitic being who is acting not at all to his advantage."

  • "The Pusher always gets it all back."

  • "Language is a virus."

  • "This is a game planet."

  • "In Timbuktu I once saw an Arab boy who could play a flute with his ass, and the fairies told me he was really an individual in bed."

  • "My purpose in writing has always been to express human potentials and purposes relevant to the Space Age."

Obituary Run Though the Cut-Up Machine Mixed with Naked Lunch

The writer died Saturday at the age of 83. Yes, of course, Carl, the doctor brayed heartily. In white museum room full of sunlight pink nudes ie and I blasted my last talk of the writer William S. Burroughs, Fuzz Lover, five police boys, has turn them offering my say, Naked after pink heart Burroughs of brayed names, F.L.-- an at a Fuzz suffering East police in has odds a Lawrence offering novel one has of Beat generation Beat the S. heartily white room of Friday nudes and blasted writer last S. to be- the for author every known the once attack throwing Lunch and on age whiff experiences of a Marvie addict, out Saturday might He the hour and 83. His experiences as a drug addict, Burroughs died barely covered over with skin at Lawrence Memorial Hospital a day after suffering. His eyes went out. He fell off and we 20,000 I.R.S. ks and others so close you can hear age Disposal Unit snapping and dying trying to Burroughs, his eyes went out. He fell off Yage, generation Beat barely covered over with skin. After suffering with one finger talking a ritual tea smoker and very puritanical about rivers down on the table. The writer died Saturday at the age of 83.

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 Author: Bonesy Jones

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