Personal papers of Beat icon Burroughs land in NYC
The New York Public Library has acquired the personal archive of Beat Generation icon William S. Burroughs – offering the first public glimpse of many of the writer’s unpublished works and correspondence.
Burroughs, author of “The Naked Lunch,” lived in Lawrence from 1981 until his death in 1997. One of his Lawrence friends said Wednesday that the newly public status of Burroughs’ archives should expand interest in the author.
“It allows researchers to see materials that for a long time were very difficult, if not impossible, to access,” said Lawrence artist Wayne Propst. “It’s going to have a big impact on Burriacs, Burrophiles, whatever you’d call them.”
Burroughs himself helped compile the archive, which includes draft versions of his most famous work, “Naked Lunch,” along with other manuscripts and letters that range from the early 1950s to the early 1970s. The collection could be available to researchers early next year.
“Of the tens of thousands of pages, only literally a handful have ever been seen, and only a very few quoted from,” said curator Isaac Gewirtz, who oversees the library’s Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature.
“My sense is that it will really change the picture of Burroughs that scholars have known,” said Oliver C.G. Harris, a professor of American literature at Keele University in Staffordshire, England.
In Lawrence, activists have hoped to raise money to start a small museum at the Barker Neighborhood house where Burroughs lived. But some critics have complained that Burroughs – who killed his wife in a William Tell game, and was an open drug user – doesn’t deserve such treatment.
Propst noted that other Lawrence icons, such as Langston Hughes and Wilt Chamberlain, had ambivalent relationships with the city.
“William, whether people like his politics or his sex life or anything else … at least he liked it here,” Propst said. “He bragged about what a nice little town it was.”