Photo by Kate Simon.
William Seward Burroughs, the literary prophet of everything weird that would happen during the latter half of the 20th century (including the 23 enigma) was born 99 years ago today, in St. Louis, MS.
Jack Kerouac called Burroughs the “greatest satirical writer since Jonathan Swift” while Norman Mailer described him as “the only American writer who may be conceivably possessed by genius.” J. G. Ballard considered Burroughs to be “the most important writer to emerge since the Second World War.” Richard C. Kostelanetz wrote that “Naked Lunch is one of the more truly original and exciting pieces of prose to emerge from the fifties.”
Then there was the flip-side of that: English critic Philip Toynbee called both Naked Lunch and Nova Express “boring rubbish, insufficiently redeemed by passages of brilliant invention.” Writer John Wain wrote of Burroughs’ work “From the literary point of view, it is the merest trash, not worth a second glance,” while Burroughs’ arch enemy, Truman Capote, had this to say: “Norman Mailer thinks William Burroughs is a genius, which I think is ludicrous beyond words. I don’t think William Burroughs has an ounce of talent.”
William S. Burroughs traveled to the Western Lands at the age of 83 in Lawrence, KS in 1997.
Below, William Burroughs shooting Ralph Steadman’s William Shakespeare portrait dead. Video by Andrea Di Castro, Lawrence, Kansas, 1995.