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William S Burroughs

Biographical Notes

  William Seward Burroughs IIwas born

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

[ 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 tochange autobiography to biography.

 When Burroughs is 13, he discovers the autobiography of

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

 First published in the John Burroughs Reviewin 1929. A short essay entitled "Personal Magnetism". He considers it an early attemptat 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 Harvardin 1936.

 In New York, 1939, cuts off left little finger. Shows it to his analystat 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 alltheroaches are," he later claims.

 Moves to New Yorkthe next year. Befriends Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Lucien Carrand 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 theydid not initially report the murder. Later, they collaborate on a novelbased 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 Hunckearound this time. Kerouac introduces Joan to Benzedrineinhalers, towhich she soon becomes addicted.

 Sometime in 1946, Burroughs injects himself with a morphineSyrette. Discovers junk ecstasy, begins addiction. In the midst of junk despair,Burroughs has a vision of a cocktail waitress bringing him a skull on atray. "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 Bellevuefor acute amphetamine psychosis. Burroughs attempts to rescue her from New York. William Burroughs IIIconceived.

 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, growingmarijuana and laying low. On 21 July 1947, William Burroughs III is born.

  Allen Ginsbergand Neal Cassadyvisit in August of 1947.

 The Burroughs' move to New Orleansin 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 the6th of September, 1951, at a desultory party, Burroughssuggests 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'twatch this- you know I can't stand the sight of blood." Burroughs shootsand 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 Columbiain 1953 to find the entheogenicvine Yage, meets Richard Evans Schultes, who councils him about the plant. Writes to Ginsberg about hisexperiences, 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 intounleashing his word hoard and deeper addictions to junk.

 Kerouac, Ginsberg and Peter Orlovskyvisit 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 Girodiasof Olympia Press, who decides to publish

The Naked Lunchin 1959.

 Moves to Londonin 1960. Back in Tangiers in August of 1961, withGinsberg and others, meets Timothy Learywho gives them all mushrooms. Burroughs doesn't enjoy the experience,saying: "Urgent warning. I think I'll stay here in shriveling envelopesof 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 publishhis writings.

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

 Burroughs moves to Lawrence, Kansaswith Grauerholz.

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

 Died on 2 August 1997of 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.

Other Links

Major Works

  • Junky(as William Lee), 1953, 1977

  • The Naked Lunch, 1959, 1990

  • Minutes to Go(with Brion Gysin, Sinclair Beiles & Gregory Corso), 1960

  • Exterminator(with Brion Gysin), 1960

  • The Soft Machine, 1961, 1992

  • The Ticket That Exploded, 1962, 1987

  • Dead Fingers Talk, 1963

  • The Yage Letters, 1963, 1975

  • The Nova Express, 1964, 1992

  • Valentine's Day Reading, 1965

  • Roosevelt After Inauguration, 1965

  • Time, 1965

  • APO-33, 1965

  • So Who Owns Death TV?(with Claude Pelieu & Carl Weissner), 1967

  • The Dead Star, 1969

  • The Last Words of Dutch Schultz, 1969, 1975

  • The Wild Boys, 1971, 1992

  • The Electronic Revolution(bilingual edition: German/English), 1971, 1996

  • Brion Gysin Let the Mice In(text by Burroughs), 1973

  • Exterminator!, 1973, 1979

  • White Subway, 1973

  • Mayfair Academy Series More or Less, 1973

  • Port of Saints, 1973, 1980

  • The Book of Breathing, 1974

  • The Job, 1974

  • Sidetripping(text to photographs by Charles Gatewood), 1975

  • Snack, 1975

  • Cobble Stone Gardens, 1976

  • The Retreat Diaries, 1976

  • The Third Mind(with Brion Gysin), 1978

  • Letters to Allen Ginsberg, 1976, 1982

  • Ali's Smile/ Naked Scientology(bilingual edition: German/English), 1978, 1995

  • Blade Runner, A Movie, 1979

  • Dr. Benway, 1979

  • Ah Pook Is Here, 1979

  • Streets of Chance, 1981

  • Early Routines, 1981

  • Cities of the Red Night, 1981

  • Sinki's Sauna, 1982

  • A William Burroughs Reader, 1982

  • RE/Search 4/5: William S Burroughs, Bryon Gysin & Throbbing Gristle, 1982

  • The Place of Dead Roads, 1983

  • Ruski, 1984

  • The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse(bilingual edition: German/English), 1984, 1996

  • The Burroughs File, 1984

  • The Adding Machine, 1985

  • Queer, 1985

  • The Cat Inside(with Brion Gysin), 1986, 1992

  • The Western Lands, 1987

  • The Whole Tamale

  • Apocalypse(with Keith Haring), 1988

  • Interzone, 1989, 1990

  • Tornado Alley, 1989

  • Letters of William S Burroughs, 1990

  • Ghost of a Chance, 1991, 1995

  • Seven Deadly Sins, 1992

  • Ports of Entry: William S Burroughs & the Arts, 1996

  • My Education: A Book Of Dreams, 1996

  • Concrete & Buckshot: William S. Burroughs 1987 - 1996- Timothy Leary (intro), Benjamin Weissman (ed.)

  • Word Virus: The William S. Burroughs Reader- James Grauerholz, Ira Silverberg (eds.) [1/99]

  • Last Words: The Final Journals of William S. Burroughs- James Grauerholz (ed.) [Feb. 2000]

  • Burroughs: Letters[2/2000]

  • The Collected Interviews William S. Burroughs[September 2000]

  • Conversations With William S. Burroughs (Literary Conversations series)- Alan Hibbard (ed.) [April 2000]


  • Uncommon Quotes: William S. Burroughs[Out of Print]

  • Junkyread by Burroughs. Penguin Audiobooks, 1996

  • Break Through In Grey Room[CD]

  • Call Me Burroughs[CD]

  • Dead City Radio[CD]

  • Spare Ass Annie & Other Tales[CD]

  • The Elvis of Letters [EP][CD] (With Gus Van Sant)

  • The "Priest" They Called Him [EP][CD] (With Kurt Kobain)

  • The Road To Western Lands[CD]

  • 10% File Under Burroughs[CD]

Anthologies Including Burroughs

  • Drug User Documents 1840 - 1960- John Strausbaugh, Donald Blaise (eds.)

  • Grand Street #54 (S P A C E)- Jean Stein (ed.)

  • Grand Street #59 (TIME)- Jean Stein (ed.)

  • Starry Wisdom: A Tribute To H. P. Lovecraft

Works About Burroughs

  • The Job: Interviews With William S. Burroughs- Daniel Odier (ed.)

  • With William Burroughs: A Report From the Bunkerby Victor Bockris, 1981, 1996

  • RE/Search 4/5: William S Burroughs, Bryon Gysin & Throbbing Gristle(V. Vale & A. Juno, eds.), 1982

  • William S Burroughs At The Front: Critical Reception, 1959-1989(J. Skerl & R Lyndenberg, eds.), 1991

  • Literary Outlaw: Life & Times of William S Burroughsby Ted Morgan

  • William Burroughs: El Hombre Invisibleby Barry Miles, 1992

  • Gentleman Junkie: The Life and Legacy of William S. Burroughs- Graham Caveney [1998]

  • Naked Angels: Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs- James Lytell

  • Paradise Outlaws: Remembering The Beats- James Lytell

  • Wising Up The Marks: The Novels of William S. Burroughs- Timothy S. Murphy

  • The Beat Hotel: Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Corso In Paris, 1957 - 1963- Barry Miles [June 2000]


  • Internet Movie Database link for William S. Burroughs

  • The Naked LunchDavid Cronenberg (director) [1991]

  • William S. Burroughs - Commissioner of SewersKlaus Maeck (director) [1986]

  • Destroy All Rational ThoughtA 'docucollage' of Burroughs and commentary, not the great serious work that you have been waiting for.

  • Chappaqua - Conrad Rooks (director) [1966] a lost classic of the 60's includes William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, soundtrack by Ravi Shankhar. Worth owning.

    • [DVD version]

    • [VHS version]


  • KerouacJohn Antonelli (director) [VHS] (1987)

  • Drugstore CowboyGus Van Sant (director) (1989) [DVD]

  • My Own Private IdahoGus Van Sant (director) (1992)


 Author: Bonesy Jones

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