cover image The Letters of William S. Burroughs: 2volume I: 1945-1959

The Letters of William S. Burroughs: 2volume I: 1945-1959

William S. Burroughs. Viking Books, $25 (512pp) ISBN 978-0-670-81348-3

Between July 1945 and October 1959, Burroughs, the future author of Naked Lunch , kept up a voluminous correspondence with beat compatriots Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac and, to a lesser extent, with Neal Cassady, Paul Bowles and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The 180 letters presented here in chronological order tell of his drug and sex habits, day-to-day existence and developing writing technique. In the correspondence, Harris, a British university lecturer on American literature, finds ``mandarin intellect and hipster humor'' emerging from ``a life that was often deluged by disaster.'' Several times, for example, police intercepted letters and used them to bring drug charges against Burroughs. Mailed from self-imposed isolation in outposts such as New Orleans, East Texas, Mexico City and Tangier, Burroughs's letters are full of despair and myopic worldviews. Still, this correspondence yields valuable insights into Burroughs's literary development. (July)