William Seward Burroughs As a Legendary Artist

William Seward Burroughs, or William Lee, his pen name, was an American novelist, spoken word performer, satirist, short story writer, painter, and essayist.

A major figure of the Beat Generation and a prominent postmodernist author who focused on the paranoid fiction genre, he is known for being one of the most politically incisive, culturally driving, and originative artists of the 20th century. His influence is believed to have left a substantial impact on a scope of popular culture and also literature. Burroughs authored six sets of short stories, four sets of essays, and eighteen novels and novellas. There are five books on his correspondences and interviews. He also teamed up on various projects with a lot of performers and musicians, including recordings, and made an appearance in a slew of films.

Born to a rich family in St. Louis, Missouri, he was the grandson of the Burroughs Corporation creator and founder, William Seward Burroughs; and the nephew of public relations manager, Ivy Lee. Burroughs explored into writing journals and essays as a young adolescent, but did not publish his works until his thirties. He left home in 1932 to study at Harvard University, where he took up English, and then enrolled in anthropology as a postgraduate, before proceeding to Vienna to attend medical school. Burroughs attempted to join the U.S.Army in 1942 because he wanted to serve during World War II, but was denied by the Office of Strategic Services and Navy. At that point, he began using drugs, an addiction that became a fixture in his life while experimenting with a variety of jobs. By 1943, he lived in New York City and made friends with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, before all three of them sowed the seeds of the Beat Generation, which evolved into a powerful influence on the counterculture of the 1960s.

A large portion of Burroughs’s work is partly autobiographical, substantially shaped by his life as a heroin addict, as he lived in and around Paris, London, Tangier in Morocco and Mexico City, including his visits in the South American Amazon. By accident, Burroughs killed Joan Vollmer, his second wife, in Mexico City in 1951, which led to his conviction for manslaughter. Fueled by the success of Junkie (1953), his confessional first novel, Burroughs became a sensation after his third book, Naked Lunch (1959), an extremely controversial novel that was part of a sodomy court case in the U.S. Together with Brion Gysin, he also made the literary cut-up method greater very popular through some of his works, like The Nova Trilogy (1961-1964).

Burroughs was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1983, and was awarded the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by France a year later. Jack Kerouac considered Burroughs as the best satirical writer since Jonathan Swift, a reputation made by his eternal subversion of modern America’s political, economic and moral systems, conveyed in usually darkly funny sardonicism.

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