Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
After the death of Jack Kerouac in 1969, William Seward Burroughs (BUR-ohz) assumed the title as the United States’ foremost avant-garde novelist. His parents, Mortimer Burroughs, the son of the inventor of the adding machine, and Laura Lee, the daughter of a distinguished minister, fell heir to only a small fraction of the Burroughs Company fortune, so their second son, named for his inventor grandfather, grew up in the upper middle class rather than the upper class. William S. Burroughs was educated at private schools in St. Louis and New Mexico and received his B.A. from Harvard University in 1936. He briefly attended medical school in Germany and returned to Harvard for graduate study in archaeology before moving to New York.
There he adopted a bohemian way of life, rejecting the bourgeois life of his parents. He sought out the city’s underworld and became familiar with the ways of drug users, petty thieves, pimps, and prostitutes. He began to express his sexual preference for men. In 1943, Burroughs returned to New York City and met Joan Vollmer, a student at Columbia University; they married in 1945. She introduced Burroughs to Kerouac, who in turn introduced him to Allen Ginsberg. Together, the three became the core of the group of writers known as the Beats. It was during this same period that Burroughs began a lifelong dalliance with heroin, and he supplemented the $150 monthly income from his family by pushing drugs and committing petty...
(The entire section is 1104 words.)
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
William Seward Burroughs II was born on February 5, 1914, in St. Louis, Missouri, to Mortimer Perry Burroughs, son of the industrialist William Seward Burroughs I, who founded the Burroughs Adding Machine company. His mother was Laura Hammond Lee, whose family claimed direct descent from Robert E. Lee, Civil War general and commander in chief of the Confederate army. Dominated by his mother’s obsessive Victorian prudery and haunted by vivid nightmares and hallucinations, Burroughs led a restless childhood. He was educated in private schools in St. Louis and Los Alamos, New Mexico, where he developed seemingly disparate fascinations with literature and crime. He later studied ethnology and archaeology at Harvard University, where he encountered a group of wealthy gay men. He graduated with an A.B. in 1936, and upon his graduation, his parents bestowed on him a monthly trust of two hundred dollars that allowed Burroughs a great deal of freedom from daily concerns.
Subsequently, Burroughs traveled to Europe. He briefly studied medicine at the University of Vienna, where he met Ilse Klapper, whom he married so that she—a Jewish woman fleeing Nazi Germany—could obtain an American visa. They remained friends, but Ilse divorced Burroughs nine years later, in 1946. Burroughs returned to the United States and Harvard to resume his anthropological studies, which he soon abandoned because of his conviction that academic life is little more than a series of...
(The entire section is 980 words.)