William S. Burroughs

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St. Louis, Missouri
Birth Sign
St. Louis, Missouri

William S Burroughs is a name that needs no introduction to book enthusiasts and fans. Burroughs was, for the most part, a prominent writer of the Beat generation, with writings that were both culturally important and politically perceptive. He wrote 18 novels and novellas, six collections of short stories, and four collections of essays during his lifetime, all of which have had a profound impact on popular culture and literature. Surprisingly, the majority of his writings are semi-autobiographical, in which he describes his personal experiences with heroin addiction. He was successful right away with his debut novel, ‘Junkie.’ ‘Naked Lunch,’ his third novel, rocketed him into literary prominence. However, it sparked a lot of debate and was the last major book in the United States to be prosecuted for obscenity. He has influenced musicians such as Roger Waters, Patti Smith, Genesis P-Orridge, Ian Curtis, Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, Tom Waits, and Kurt Cobain over the years, not just as a novelist but also as a public figure. He was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1983, and France bestowed the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres on him the following year.

Early life and childhood

William S. Burroughs was born on February 5, 1914, in St Louis, Missouri, to Mortimer Perry Burroughs and Laura Hammon Lee. He was the couple’s youngest son. His father was an antique and gift shop owner, and his mother was the daughter of a pastor from a respected family. He began his academic career at John Burroughs School, then transferred to Los Alamos Ranch School in New Mexico, before finishing his high school education at Taylor School in Clayton, Missouri. He authored his first article, titled ‘Personal Magnetism,’ while at John Burroughs School, and it was published in John Burroughs Review in 1929.

He entered at Harvard University in 1932 to pursue an arts degree. He worked as a cub reporter for the city newspaper, the St Louis Post-Dispatch, over his summer vacation, covering police docket. In 1936, he received his diploma. He visited New York City frequently throughout his time at Harvard. These journeys provided access to the city’s LGBT subculture, including lesbian pubs and underground homosexual clubs. He was relieved of the pressure of having to work for a living because he had a guaranteed stipend of $200 from his parents. He was able to forego work and live his life as he desired thanks to the stipend.

Career of William

After finishing his education at Harvard, he travelled to Europe and was exposed to homosexuality in Austria and Hungary during the Weimar period. He spent a lot of time among the city’s homosexuals, runaways, and exiles.
When he returned to the United States, he worked at a variety of odd jobs. His parents were concerned about his deteriorating emotional health. He was also upset because, in 1942, he was drafted into the US Army as a 1-A Infantryman rather than an officer.

After being discharged from the Army due to mental illness, he was treated by a family member who worked as a neurologist at a psychiatric treatment facility. He made a friend with a Chicago soldier there. After being released from the treatment clinic, he moved to Chicago and worked at a number of different professions. In 1944, he relocated to New York City and began dating Joan Vollmer Adams. In 1945, he and Vollmer wrote their first piece of writing, ‘And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks,’ which went unpublished until 2008. The work depicted the real-life murder of David Kammerer by his friend Lucien Carr.

In the meantime, he grew addicted to drugs and was caught and placed under house arrest. After completing his tenure, he moved to New Orleans with Vollmer and their son in 1948. To avoid charges of marijuana delivery and imprisonment, he escaped to Mexico. In 1950, he enrolled at Mexico City College to study Spanish during his stay in Mexico. He unintentionally shot Vollmer a year later while playing a drunken game, killing her. He was held in jail for 13 days before being released on bond.

During the Vollmer case trial, he wrote a short novel called ‘Queer,’ which remained unpublished until 1985. The experience left a lasting impression on his thoughts and influenced his writing for the rest of his life. He moved to South America after leaving Mexico. He began writing after taking his literary career seriously. ‘Junkie,’ his third literary endeavor, is now complete. Under the pen name William Lee, the book was renamed ‘Junkie: Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict’ and released in 1953.

He spent a brief while in Palm Beach, Florida in 1953 before travelling to Rome to meet Alan Ansen. His vacation was brief, as he quickly relocated to Tangier, Morocco. The culture and climate of the location matched his disposition, allowing him to pursue his preferred pursuits without restriction. He began work on his next creative project, a fiction story titled ‘Naked Lunch.’ In the meantime, he composed commercial Tangier pieces and forwarded them to Ginsberg for publication. However, none of them were published until 1989, when a collection of short stories called ‘Interzone’ was released.

‘Naked Lunch,’ unlike his previous works, was his first attempt at non-linear writing. The book, which was published in 1959, detailed his adventures in the United States, Mexico, and finally Tangier, as well as his drug addiction. At the Beat Hotel in Paris that same year, he was exposed to Brion Gysin’s cut-up technique. Their shared passion for art and cut-up techniques prompted them to become lifelong friends. Due to its subjective views of sex and anti-social characters, ‘Naked Lunch’ did not find many purchasers in the United States.

Despite being labeled indecent, parts from the work began to appear in other journals. The work was finally published in 1959, after a lot of debate. The novel drew immediate notice not only from members of the 1960s counterculture, but also from critics, shortly after its release in the United States. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, however, prosecuted it as indecent, and other states followed suit. The work drew attention to the burgeoning Beat literary movement. He created three further pieces between 1961 and 1963, titled ‘The Soft Machine,’ ‘The Ticket That Exploded,’ and ‘Nova Express.’ The novels made significant use of the cut-up approach, which emphasized the writer’s importance and sensitivity as an editor while diminishing his position as a creator.

He moved to London in 1966 to get help for his drug addiction. He penned an essay describing his indebtedness for the cure while undergoing the painless heroin detox treatment. ‘Letter From Master Addict to Dangerous Drugs,’ it was titled. The addiction relapsed despite treatment. He composed modest literary pieces to support himself and his addiction in the last half of his life. ‘The Last Words of Ducth Schultz’ and ‘The Wild Boys’ are two of his novels. As his art was acknowledged by the hippie counterculture, his reputation grew.

In 1974, he returned to the United States and began teaching creative writing at City College of New York. He did not, however, endure more than a season. A Beat generation enthusiast, James Grauerholz, instilled in him the concept of a reading tour, comparable to a rock tour. Burroughs’ status as a writer was instantly elevated as a result of the former’s management of the tour, which resulted in new publishing contracts. He relocated to Lawrence, Kansas, in 1981. He released a trilogy, ‘Cities of the Red Night,’ ‘The Place of Dead Roads,’ and ‘The Western Lands,’ from 1981 to 1987. Unlike his previous works, he used a unique style in which the novel began with a straight plot and then transitioned to a random pattern.

Achievements & Awards

He was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1983.
He was honored by France with the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1984.

Personal history and legacy

Against his parents’ objections, he married Ilse Klapper, a Jewish woman. The alliance, on the other hand, was primarily meant to furnish her with a US visa. The two eventually split up but remained lifelong friends. He had a connection with Joan Vollmer Adams in 1944. He and his wife had a son, William S Burroughs Jr (Billy), three years later. Vollmer was assassinated by mistake in 1951. Billy, an alcoholic, was diagnosed with liver cirrhosis and required a liver transplant. However, he continued to drink alcohol until 1981, when he died. Burroughs Sr. struggled with drug addiction for the majority of his life. His addiction resurfaced despite multiple recovery programs and treatments. On August 2, 1997, he passed away as a result of complications from a heart attack. In Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, he was buried in the family plot.

Estimated Net Worth

William is one of the wealthiest poets and one of the most well-known. William S. Burroughs’ net worth is estimated to be at $33 million, according to Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.


He was a key figure in the Beat period, well known for his controversial novel ‘Naked Lunch.’