LJWorld.com

Honesty marked Burroughs' work

Letter to the editor

December 16, 2003

William S. Burroughs' books are not for everyone, that's for sure. But he and his works are known and admired the world over, by literally millions of fans.

Burroughs is not widely known -- or "notorious" -- for having been a famous (because self-confessed) victim of drug addiction, nor for having killed his wife in 1951 in a reckless, horrible, stupid accident. That's not why he's famous.

William Burroughs is known to us because he is almost universally acknowledged as one of the most influential American writers of the 20th century.

In fact, Burroughs' literary reputation is the ONLY reason anyone even knows that he WAS a drug addict or that he killed his wife.

Without the brutally honest, truth-seeking, pathbreaking, not-for-everybody books he wrote after 1951, William Burroughs would be totally unknown to anyone -- not "notorious" -- not even remembered at all.

No one who has ever read Burroughs' work could possibly claim that he "promoted" the abuse of narcotics, by the way.

William loved Lawrence, and so do I; I've lived here nearly 25 years. And I know William would never have wanted this creek-naming discussion to hurt or divide our community. I know I don't want that to happen.

It's obvious why I supported the Brook Creek Neighborhood Assn. folks when they came to me with their proposal two years ago.

If it turns out that enough people find "Burroughs Creek" too prepossessing, maybe it should be "Lost Cat Creek" or something else. Or no federal naming at all. Let the people decide.

But white people took that creek away from the Shawnee tribes in 1854, and I'd like to think we could come up with a better name for it today than a reference to an extinct railroad company whose century of history with the Native Americans of Douglas County is so very checkered.

Even if the creek never gets any federal name, it won't stop thousands of people from coming here through the years, wanting to visit Lawrence, just because they heard William Burroughs lived here.

Those visitors will leave behind their tourist dollars, and they will take away many other memories of our community -- positive impressions that might have little to do with the quirky, elderly "Beatnik" who lived quietly here for 16 years, and died here six years ago.

I, and a lot of other Lawrence people, want to encourage those literary visitors, for a long time to come.

If there is just one city in my native state of Kansas that should be able to "live and let live," it should be Lawrence.

James W. Grauerholz is a Lawrence resident and executor of the William S. Burroughs estate.

Originally published at: http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2003/dec/16/honesty_marked_burroughs/