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William S. Burroughs

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

William Seward Burroughs II (February 5, 1914(1914-02-05) – August 2, 1997; pronounced /ˈbəroʊz/, also known by his pen name William Lee) was an American novelist, poet, essayist, painter and spoken word performer. Burroughs was a major figure of the Beat Generation and a postmodernist author who affected popular culture as well as literature. He is considered to be "one of the most politically trenchant, culturally influential, and innovative artists of the twentieth century."[1] Burroughs wrote eighteen novels and novellas, six collections of short stories and four collections of essays. Five books have been published of his interviews and correspondences. Burroughs also collaborated on projects and recordings with numerous performers and musicians, and made many appearances in films.

He was born to a wealthy family in St. Louis, Missouri, grandson of William Seward Burroughs, the founder of Burroughs Corporation. Burroughs began writing essays and journals in early adolescence. After leaving home in 1932 to attend Harvard University, he became enamored with contemporary counterculture, and fascinated by the underground society of drug addiction. His first work as a novelist was co-written in 1945 with friend Jack Kerouac while they were living with Allen Ginsberg in New York City, And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks.

John Waters described Burroughs as being "the first person who was famous for things you were supposed to hide."[2] Much of Burroughs's work is semi-autobiographical, primarily drawn from his experiences as a heroin addict, a condition that marked the last fifty years of his life, his first novel being Junkie (1953). It is often satirical and darkly humorous, based upon his socially critical observances and "lifelong subversion"[1] to the moral, political and economic systems of modern American society. In this respect, he is perhaps best known for his third novel Naked Lunch (1959), in which he popularized of the literary cut-up technique. In 1983, he was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

Burroughs had one child, William Seward Burroughs III, with his second wife Joan Vollmer, who died after Burroughs accidentally shot her in the head while drunk. While Burroughs was in early life secretive of his bisexuality, he later became openly homosexual, and a characteristic critique of homophobia features prominently in his work; he is cited as being one of the first people to use "queer", the title of his second novel, as a self-referential and positive term.[2] He was the grandchild of the inventor William Seward Burroughs I and the nephew of the public relations manager Ivy Lee. Burroughs died at his home in Lawrence, Kansas after suffering a heart attack in 1997.

Contents [hide]
1 Early life and education
1.1 Harvard University
1.2 Europe
2 Beginning of the Beats
2.1 Joan Vollmer
2.2 Mexico and South America
3 Beginning of literary career
3.1 Naked Lunch
3.2 Paris and the 'Beat Hotel'
3.3 The London years
3.4 Return to U.S.
3.5 Later years in Kansas
4 Death
4.1 After his death
5 Literary style and periods
5.1 Reaction to critics and view on criticism
6 Legacy
7 Appearances in media
7.1 In music
7.1.1 Band names
7.2 In film and television
7.3 As a fictional character
8 Bibliography
9 Further reading
10 Notes
11 References
12 External links


[edit] Early life and education
Burroughs was born in 1914, the younger of two sons born to Mortimer Perry 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' 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 ran an antique and gift shop, Cobblestone Gardens; first in St. Louis, then in Palm Beach, Florida.

As a boy, Burroughs lived on Pershing Ave. in St. Louis's Central West End. He attended John Burroughs School in St. Louis where his first published essay, "Personal Magnetism," was printed in the John Burroughs Review in 1929.[3] 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."[4] Burroughs kept journals documenting an erotic attachment to another boy. According to his own account, he destroyed these later, ashamed of their content.[5] Due to the repressive context where he grew up, and from which he fled, that is, a "family where displays of affection were considered embarrassing,"[6] he kept his sexual orientation concealed well into adulthood when, ironically, he became a well known homosexual writer after the publication of Naked Lunch in 1959. Some say that he was expelled from Los Alamos after taking chloral hydrate in Santa Fe with a fellow student. Yet, according to his own account, he left voluntarily: "During the Easter vacation of my second year I persuaded my family to let me stay in St. Louis."[5]

[edit] 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, 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.[7] 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 Richard Stern, a wealthy friend from Kansas City. 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.[8]

Burroughs graduated from Harvard 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.[9]

Burroughs's parents sold the rights to his grandfather's invention and had no share in the Burroughs Corporation. Shortly before the 1929 stock market crash they sold their stock for $200,000.[10]

[edit] Europe
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.[11] 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 the last joint of his left little finger, right at the knuckle, to impress a man with whom he was infatuated.[12] This event made its way into his early fiction as the short story "The Finger."

[edit] 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.

[edit] 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. ...
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