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William S Burroughs

About William S Burroughs

Described by Pulitzer Prize-winner Norman Mailer as “the only American writer who may be conceivably possessed by genius,” William Seward Burroughs II was one of the most influential and infamous writers of the 20th century. Along with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, he was part of the main trio of the Beat Generation, whose lifestyles and writings had a widespread influence on modern culture.

Though raised by a wealthy family and educated at Harvard, Burroughs lived the life of a libertine and a hedonist, travelling throughout the Americas, Europe and even to Africa while indulging his homosexual attractions and drug addictions (as described in his novels Queer and Junkie, respectively).

In 1951, he accidentally shot his own wife, Joan Vollmer, in the head while living in Mexico. This event permanently altered Burroughs' life, and he later declared “I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would have never become a writer but for Joan’s death…”

No doubt his most famous work is the 1959 novel Naked Lunch, a surreal and disturbing work which was subject to an obscenity trial which ended with the conclusion that the work was “not obscene” by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Naked Lunch remains the last work solely composed of text to ever be subjected to an obscenity trial. In 1991 it was adapted into a film by director David Cronenberg.

Burroughs wrote eighteen novels and novellas, six collections of short stories and four collections of essays. He has been named as an influence by writers such as J. G. Ballard, Angela Carter, Jean Genet, William Gibson, Alan Moore, Kathy Acker and Ken Kesey, as well as musicians such as Roger Waters, Patti Smith, Genesis P-Orridge, Ian Curtis, Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, Tom Waits and Kurt Cobain.

In 1981, Burroughs moved to Lawrence, Kansas. In 1997, he died there at the age of 83.

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