William S. Burroughs with a shotgun

Quick Facts

  • William S. Burroughs was the writer often associated with the Beat Generation. His most famous books include Naked Lunch, Nova Express, and Junky.
  • But he’s perhaps most famous for shooting and killing his wife Joan Vollmer.
  • Along with close friend and collaborator Brion Gysin, Burroughs pioneered the “cut-up” method in his writings.
  • The band Steely Dan is named after a dildo that appeared in Naked Lunch
  • He was a huge influence on proto-punk, post-punk, alternative music and industrial music, and collaborated with Ministry, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Michael Franti, Nirvana and Tom Waits. Artists such as Patti Smith, Ian Curtis of Joy Division and Lou Reed of the Velvet Underground have cited him as an influence.
  • Burroughs was also a huge influence on cyberpunk literature, through his influence on writers such as J.G. Ballard and William Gibson.
  • Although the film is based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick, Blade Runner is actually named after a novel by Burroughs. The studio bought the rights to both books.
  • He was also a magician and conducted many magical experiments with Gysin and was a member of the IOT.
  • Burroughs is less well known as a visual artist, but was a prolific painter in his later life.

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Where to Start?

  • Wild Boys is generally considered his most accessible novel, though many people just start with Naked Lunch, which is still his most essential work.
  • The Red Night Trilogy trilogy — consisting of Cities of the Red Night, The Place of Dead Roads and The Western Lands — is also accessible and considered by many to be Burroughs’ best work.
  • Many people prefer his interviews and non-fiction to his fiction. The interview book The Job is the best introduction to his thought. This is my favorite interview with him I’ve found online.
  • Unofficial sites

    • Reality Studio a William S. Burroughs community site. The definitive WSB resource on the web. Extensive collection of materials.
    • Wikipedia entry

    Shooting of Joan Vollmer

    The Death of Joan Vollmer Burroughs: What Really Happened? (PDF)


    Above: Burroughs interviewed by Kathy Acker (Part 2, Part 3)


    Works by Burroughs

    Pirate Tape, a collaboration between William S. Burroughs, Derek Jarman and Psychic TV.

    Writings on Burroughs

    Interview with James Grauerholz on William S. Burroughs and Magick
    Interview with Burroughs documentary maker Yony Leyser
    The Death of Joan Vollmer Burroughs: What Really Happened? (long PDF about William and Joan’s relationship)
    The Beat Goes On: Acker on Burroughs by Kathy Acker, from 21C Magazine
    Wild Girls: Acker rewrites Burroughs by Kathy Acker, from 21C Magazine
    David Cronenberg talks about Burroughs


    Above: William S. Burroughs Nike commercial
    Extensive collection of William S. Burroughs book covers
    New Burroughs book covers by Owen Freeman
    A web based dream machine
    More misc. links

    See Also

    Brion Gysin
    Kathy Acker
    Lydia Lunch


    Most of the links above are internal links for 2 reasons:
    1. It means I’ll only have to fix deadlinks in one place
    2. In case of deadlinks, the original posts usually have at least an excerpt from the original link, so you’ll at least be able to read something.
    Please report deadlinks and, better yet, replacement links in the comments