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. 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."
Burroughs kept journals documenting an erotic attachment to another boy. According to his own account, he destroyed these later, ashamed of their content. 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," he kept his sexual orientation concealed well into adulthood when, ironically, he became a well known homosexual writer after the publication of
Peter Orlowsky, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Alan Ansen, Gregory Corso, Paul Bowles e Ian Sommerville
William S. Burroughs was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, painter, and spoken word performer. Ian Sommerville was an electronics technician and computer programmer. He is primarily known through his association with William S. Burroughs's circle of Beat Generation figures, and lived at Paris's so-called "Beat Hotel" by 1960, when they were regulars there, becoming Burroughs's lover and "systems adviser". He died in a single car accident near Bath, England in 1976.
Gregory Corso, Paul Bowles & William Burroughs, behind him two dead boys, shades of late Ian Sommerville & Michael Portman deceased crouching before garden wall, we all took our cameras out under blue sky, brilliant sunny day, Villa Mouneria Tangier 1961. (Ginsberg Caption)
Paul Bowles, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso and Ian Sommervill in Burroughs’s Villa Mouniera garden, Tangier - July 1961
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. 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.
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.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.
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. 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. This event made its way into his early fiction as the short story "The Finger."
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.
Although Burroughs collaborated on a humorous sketch with a classmate, Kells Elvins, at Harvard and completed a short novel written in the style of Dashiell Hammett with Kerouac, both works were rejected by publishers, and Burroughs did not think of himself as a writer. Instead, his search for an identity led him to deliberately seek out a criminal life.
In the hope that he would feel at home in a "community of outlaws," Burroughs began buying stolen goods, including morphine Syrettes, and became addicted to morphine. In 1947 he began to live with Joan Vollmer, another member of the group around the Columbia campus, and they had a son William S. Burroughs, Jr. Joan was addicted to Benzedrine, and they moved to New Orleans, Texas, and Mexico City where drugs were more easily obtainable.
In the spring of 1950 Burroughs' old Harvard friend Kells Elvins visited him in Mexico City and talked him into writing a factual book about his drug experience as a "memory exercise." Burroughs set himself on a daily schedule, helped by injections of morphine. He finished the project in December, titled his book Junk, and set the manuscript to Lucien Carr in New York. Acting as an agent for both Burroughs and Kerouac. Ginsberg was able to get the book published as a pulp paperback in 1953 under the pseudonym "William Lee" with the lurid subtitle Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict."
On September 6, 1951, Burroughs accidentally killed his wife and was charged in Mexico City with criminal imprudence. His parents took over the care of Billy Junior and brought him to their home in Florida. Released on bail, Burroughs left Mexico and traveled in South America looking for a drug called yage. His letters to Ginsberg describing his experiences in the cities, jungles, and mountains of Ecuador and Peru were collected in his volume later published by City Lights as The Yage Letters (1963), which Burroughs thought would interest readers after the success of Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception in 1954.
After Burroughs left South America, he settled in Tangier, where he could live cheaply and obtain the drugs he needed. Burroughs has said that the death of his wife gave him a literary vocation. He felt that he had been possessed by an invader, "the Ugly Spirit," who controlled him at the time of the accident and maneuvered him into a lifelong struggle, "in which I have had no choise except to write my way out."
In February 1957 Kerouac came to visit him in Tangier and began to type the hundreds of handwritten pages of Burroughs' new book that Kerouac titled Naked Lunch. Writing it, Burroughs said he was "shitting out my educated Middlewest background once and for all. It's a matter of catharsis, where I say the most horrible things I can think of. Realize that--the most horrible dirty smily awful niggardliest posture possible. . . ."
Burroughs continued to work on the book until it's publication in 1959, thinking of it as a picaresque novel narrated by an alter ego, "William Lee." As his biographer, Ted Morgan, understood, Burroughs shared Ginberg and Carr's "New Vision" of the writer as an outlaw and creating a "literature of risk." The compression and urgency of Naked Lunch in "the fragmentation of the text is like the discontinutity of the addict's life between fixes. . . . For Burroughs sees addiction as a general condition not limited to drugs. Politics, religion, the family, love, are all forms of addiction. In the post-Bomb society, all the mainstays of the social order have lost their meaning, and bankrupt nation-states are run by 'control addicts.'" Burroughs' essay "Deposition: Testimony Concerning a Sickness." describing an experimental cure for herion addiction developed by a London doctor, was published in the Evergreen Review in 1960.
Burroughs died in Lawrence, at 6:50 p.m. on August 2, 1997 from complications of a heart attack he had suffered the previous day. He was interred in the family plot in Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, with a marker bearing his full name and the epitaph "American Writer." The grave lies to the right of the white granite obelisk of William Seward Burroughs I (1857–1898).
Drugs, homosexuality and death, common among Burroughs's themes, have been taken up by Dennis Cooper, of whom Burroughs said, "Dennis Cooper, God help him, is a born writer." Cooper, in return, wrote, in his essay 'King Junk', "along with Jean Genet, John Rechy, and Ginsberg, [Burroughs] helped make homosexuality seem cool and highbrow, providing gay liberation with a delicious edge." Splatterpunk writer Poppy Z. Brite has frequently referenced this aspect of Burroughs's work. Burroughs's writing continues to be referenced years after his death; for example, a November 2004 episode of the TV series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation included an evil character named Dr. Benway (named for an amoral physician who appears in a number of Burroughs's works.) This is an echo of the hospital scene in the movie Repo Man, made during Burroughs's lifetime, in which both Dr. Benway and Mr. Lee (a Burroughs pen name) are paged.
Ian Sommerville (1940-1976) was an electronics technician and computer programmer. He is primarily known through his association with William S. Burroughs's circle of Beat Generation figures, and lived at Paris's so-called "Beat Hotel" by 1960, when they were regulars there, becoming Burroughs's lover and "systems adviser".
Sommerville was educated at the King's School, Canterbury, and at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Around 1960, he programmed a random-sequence generator that Brion Gysin used in his cut-up technique. He and Gysin also collaborated in 1961 in developing the Dreamachine, a phonograph-driven stroboscope described as "the first art object to be seen with the eyes closed", and intended to affect the viewer's brain alpha wave activity.
Sommerville and Burroughs made the 5-minute tape "Silver Smoke of Dreams" in the early 1960s, and later provided the basis for the quarter-hour audio "cut-up" and "K-9 Was in Combat with the Alien Mind-Screens" around 1965. The following year Sommerville also installed two Revox reel-to-reel machines for Paul McCartney in Ringo Starr's apartment at 34 Montagu Square, Marylebone, London, and recorded Burroughs on the machine.
Sommerville along with Gysin and Burroughs collaborated on Let The Mice In, published in 1973. Burroughs' book My Education: A Book of Dreams, indeed largely composed of accounts of his dreams, includes dreams of talking with Sommerville. He died in a single car accident due to inexperience near Bath, England in 1976 shortly after obtaining his first driving licence.
Junky by William S. Burroughs is pretty much the best book ever. The setting, the title, the style of the one and only W.F.B. --Blair MastbaumDays of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
Amazon: Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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