The Art Legend Known as William Seward Burroughs
William Seward Burroughs, who also goes by his pen name, William Lee, was an American author of short stories, satires, and essays, as well as a spoken word performer and painter.
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 estimated to have create a large impact on a variety of popular culture and literature as well. Burroughs completed six albums of short stories, eighteen novels and novellas, and four albums of essays. There are five books that feature his interviews and correspondences. 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.
He was born into a prominent St.Louis, Missouri family, and was grandson to Burroughs Corporation inventor and founder, William Seward Burroughs, and nephew to public relations manager, Ivy Lee. Burroughs began writing essays and journals in his early adolescent life, but only started publicizing his works while in 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. In 1942, Burroughs joined the U.S. Army for World War II, but was rejected 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. In 1943, while residing in New York City, he met and became friends with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, with whom he planted the seeds of the Beat Generation, which eventually became a defining influence on the counterculture of the 1960s.
A good chunk of Burroughs’s work is partially autobiographical, significantly inspired by his adventures as a heroin addict, as he lived and journeyed around Tangier in Morocco, Mexico City, Paris and London, and also from his trips in the South American Amazon. In a 1951 accident, Burroughs killed his second wife, Joan Vollmer, in Mexico City, and got a 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. In a joint effort with Brion Gysin, he also boosted the popularity of the literary cut-up trick in such projects as 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 regarded Burroughs as the next best satirical writer that followed Jonathan Swift, a repute that sprung out of his unending subversion of the economic, moral and political systems of modern-day America, often stated in dark and funny sardonicism.