William S. Burroughs

William Seward Burroughs II was born on February 5, 1914 and died on August 2, 1997. He was also known by his pen name William Lee.  Borroughs was an American novelist, poet, essayist, painter and spoken word performer  He was also the primary member of the Beat Generation and a postmodernist author who affected popular culture as well as literature.  He is considered by many to be “one of the most politically trenchant, culturally influential, and innovative artists of the twentieth century.”  Burroughs wrote 18 novels and novellas, 6 collections of short stories, and 4 collections of essays.  Five books have been published of his interviews and correspondences.  Burroughs also collaborated on recordings with numerous performers and musicians.

Burroughs was born to a wealthy family in St. Louis, Missouri, where he began writing essays and journals in early adolescence.  After leaving home, his first work as a novelist was co-written in 1945 with friend Jack Kerouac, 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.”  Much of Burroughs’s work is semi-autobiographical, primarily drawn from his experiences as an opiate addict, a condition that marked the last fifty years of his life, his first novel being Junky in 1953.  It is often satirical and darkly humorous, based upon his socially critical observances and “lifelong subversion” to the moral, political and economic systems of modern American society.  In 1983, he was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.  Burroughs had one child, William S. Burroughs, Jr., who he had with his second wife from 1946 to 1951, Joan Vollmer, who died after Burroughs accidentally shot her in the head while drunk. Burroughs was bisexual, and while he was in early life secretive and ashamed of his sexuality, he later became openly homosexual.  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.  He was also 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.