Final writings and artwork of William S. Burroughs find a home at KU
The final writings and artwork of William S. Burroughs have found a home at Kansas University’s Kenneth Spencer Research Library.
James Grauerholz, executor of Burroughs’ estate, donated the personal journals along with type scripts and editing materials that formed the author’s last book, “Last Words: The Final Journals of William S. Burroughs.” Five of the journals will be part of a small display at Spencer through February.
Burroughs, the famed Beat Generation writer who penned “Naked Lunch,” lived in Lawrence from 1982 until his death in 1997. Grauerholz said in a statement that Lawrence and KU “deserve to have the last word on Burroughs’ life and works.”
The journals, 10 in all, contain Burroughs’ day-to-day handwritten work and visual art. Elspeth Healey, a special collections librarian at Spencer, said the hard-cover journals are fairly typical of what you would find in a bookstore. One has a Henri Matisse painting printed on it; another has a cat on the cover.
They include passages of Burroughs reflecting on his cat’s death, and words written after speaking with friend and fellow Beat Generation legend Allen Ginsberg, when Ginsberg was ill and near the end of his life.
Having work from Burroughs in his own hand could help draw researchers to the library to view the collection, Healey said. “The ways in which Burroughs’ handwriting is more controlled in some places and less controlled in others, the emphasis you just see in looking at handwriting, gives you a sense of how to read the writing on the page,” she said.
After displaying them, the Spencer library will catalog and file the works. Researchers and the public will be able to access them in Spencer’s reading room. The primary works from Burroughs currently in Spencer’s collection, which includes letters and a first edition of “Naked Lunch,” have already drawn literary researchers from around the world, Healey said.
The new additions “are a potent symbol of Lawrence in the life of William Burroughs,” she said.