Norman Mailer called Beat writer William S Burroughs (1914-1997) “the only living American novelist conceivably possessed by genius.” He was born to a wealthy St. Louis family and attended Harvard College. After being discharged from the army for mental health problems, Burroughs moved to New York where he met Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. Many scholars consider these three men the founders of the Beat Movement. Burroughs’ life was plagued with trouble and legal controversy. In 1944, Burroughs and Kerouac were arrested as accessories to the murder of David Kammerer, the experience of which would serve as the inspiration for their co-written book And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks. In 1951, he shot and killed his second wife and the mother of his only child, Joan Vollmer under mysterious circumstances. The apocryphal story is that they were playing William Tell and he was attempting to shoot a glass of whiskey off of her head. In any case, Burroughs was convicted of “culpable homicide.” In Queer, Burrough expresses his belief that Vollmer’s death is what ultimately drove him to become a writer. Burroughs struggled with addiction (especially to heroin) throughout his life and these experiences influenced his most notable work, Naked Lunch, which caused a scandal when excerpts of it were first published in 1958. Attempts were made to ban the novel when it was fully published in 1962 and there was even an incident in which a shop owner was arrested for selling it. An obscenity trial was held and eventually the book was allowed to remain in print. More than a million copies have been sold.
Here Burroughs reads an excerpt from Naked Lunch.
Phil Cauthon “The Death of Joan Vollmer: What Really Happened?” http://www.lawrence.com/news/2003/dec/09/the_death/
Ann Livermore “Skipped a Beat: Burroughs and Kerouac’s Long Awaited Collaboration.” http://www.examiner.com/article/skipped-a-beat-burroughs-and-kerouac-s-long-awaited-collaboration
Tom Vitale “Burroughs’ ‘Naked Lunch’ Still Fresh 50 Years Later.” http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=113610846