Burroughs, William Seward

Burroughs, William Seward, 1914–97, American novelist, b. St. Louis, grad. Harvard, 1936, moved to New York City, 1943. He was an elder member of the beat generation . Junkie (1953), originally published under the pseudonym William Lee, and Queer (written 1953, pub. 1985), both written while he and his wife were living in Mexico, are autobiographical accounts of his drug addiction, homosexual experiences, and various instances of violence, most chillingly the accidental killing of his wife (he attempted to shoot a glass off her head and missed). His best-known novel, Naked Lunch (1959, in Paris), is a surrealistic depiction of the addict's existence. Works written after Naked Lunch, e.g., The Soft Machine (1961) and Nova Express (1964), are mostly cut-ups, word collages scissored from columns or portions of print. Burroughs's violent and bizarre fiction, in which most characters are depraved, insane, or both, contributed to the redefinition of the novel's style and permissible subject matter. Later works include Cities of the Red Night (1981), Place of the Dead Roads (1984), Interzone (1989, a collection of pieces from the mid-1950s), and the semiautobiographical My Education: A Book of Dreams (1995).

See biographies by T. Morgan (2012) and B. Miles (2014).

See his journals, The Retreat Diaries (1976) and the posthumously published Last Words (ed. by J. Grauerholz, 1999) O. Harris, ed., The Letters of William S. Burroughs, 1945–1959 (1993) and B. Morgan, ed, Rub Out the Words: The Letters of William S. Burroughs, 1959–1974 (2012) biographies by T. Morgan (1988) and B. Miles (1993 and 2014) studies by J. Skerl (1985) and R. Lydenberg (1987) J. Garcia-Robles and D. C. Schecter, The Stray Bullet: William S. Burroughs in Mexico (2013) H. Brookner, dir, Burroughs: The Movie (documentary, 1983).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: American Literature: Biographies

Browse by Subject

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.