"Most of the trouble in this world has been caused by folks who can't mind their own business, because they have no business of their own to mind, any more than a smallpox virus has."the Beats, William S. Burroughs (1914-1997) was the avant-garde author of over twenty books, ranging from straightforward and autobiographical (Junky, Queer) to surreal and anarchic (Naked Lunch, and The Nova Trilogy) to nostalgic, solemn and elegiac (The Wild Boys and The Red Night Trilogy). As the titles of his first two books imply, he was both a drug-addict and a
— William S. Burroughs
- And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks: Early novel, a late-1940s collaboration with Jack Kerouac that, despite the title, was in fact based upon a real-life murder investigation they had experienced, recently dusted off and published nearly sixty years after being written.
- Junky: originally published by American pulp fiction publisher Ace Books and credited to "William Lee".
- Queer: Burroughs' second full-length solo novel, but due to content as well as the fact that it was left incomplete after the death of his wife (the mere act of reading the manuscript caused Burroughs incredible pain), it was withheld from publication for some 30 years.
- Interzone: A collection of early routines that show Burroughs stylistic progression from his realistic works to the uncompromising surrealism of his later work. Sometimes referred to as an early version of Naked Lunch, many of the stories were published piecemeal before the collection was finally released in 1989.
- The Yage Letters: a hodgepodge of Burroughs routines and letters to and from his onetime boyfriend Allen Ginsberg regarding the search for a plant with psychedelic properties. The first of a number of books that collected correspondence between the two writers, and the only one with an actual theme.
- Naked Lunch: Burroughs' most famous work, a collection of farcical sketches that unmask the horrors lurking beneath the calm veneer of modern life. To date the only Burroughs novel to be translated (albeit very loosely) into a feature film. The book triggered a major court battle over literary censorship in America which is chronicled in most editions of the book.
- The Nova Trilogy (The Soft Machine, The Ticket That Exploded, Nova Express): A Space Opera about a group of extraterrestrial terrorists called the 'Nova Mob' who want to ignite the earth into an exploding supernova by creating insoluble conflicts. They can only be stopped by the Nova Police, who understand their methods and know that "Nobody, on any planet, wants to see a police officer". Thought to be nigh unreadable because of Burrough's extensive use of the 'cut-up' technique, which involves cutting up a page of text into four pieces and re-arranging them to create new text. Although contrary to the claims of bewildered skeptics, the observant reader, if patient, can see a fairly reliable pattern emerge. Usually, a chapter will start out fairly straightforward, with normal prose and everything, then after the bulk of the story is told, the reader will become aware that they're reading the same story, only "cut-up" and may become aware of new connotations and subtleties not noticed in the original. Passages will sometimes descend into strings of seemingly random cut-up images. If taken into account that this was Burroughs' attempt to introduce the montage technique of film into literature, some of the more incoherent passages will begin to make a lot more sense.
- Dead Fingers Talk: Burroughs took the texts of the Nova Trilogy and combined bits and pieces to create a new narrative which was as hard to follow as the original books. Arguably the rarest of Burroughs' full-length novels owing to it having rarely been reprinted.
- The Wild Boys: Homoerotic fantasy in which savage teenage boys in nothing but rainbow colored jockstraps and roller blades destroy western civilization. Notable for being Burroughs' first attempt to return to a straightforward narrative since 'Queer', while managing to retain several scenes of kaleidoscopic free-association free for all, in the 'Penny Arcade Peep Show' sections. That aside, it's actually quite accessible and a great way to experiences Burroughs' savage satire if Naked Lunch is proving too difficult.
- Port of Saints: a time-travel tale described as an "erotic fantasy" by one of his biographers, and featuring characters from a number of past works.
- The Third Mind: a collaboration with poet/painter Bryon Gysin, a long-time friend, in which the cut-up technique is discussed at length.
- Ah Pook Is Here: Burroughs and Malcolm McNeil's early attempt to elevate the graphic novel into an art form, named after the Mayan God of Death. Although sadly it was never completed due to the costs of color copying at the time (a hindrance Burroughs and Brion Gysin earlier faced when trying to publish The Third Mind), some unfinished panels can be viewed here allowing us to all know exactly what we missed. A plan by Fantagraphics to publish the work a couple years ago fell through, sadly.
- The Red Night Trilogy (Cities of the Red Night, The Place of Dead Roads, The Western Lands): Burroughs's last great work; a psychedelic journey through six irradiated cities from the past that were struck by an asteroid from a red sky. The first chronicles a dual narrative about a psychic detective and some gay pirates, both which tangle together in the first of the six titular cities, Tamaghis. The second book follows a time-traveling old-western shootist, which somehow sets up the third's odyssey through the Egyptian Land of the Dead, culminating in a satisfying conclusion to Burroughs's mythology. Contains frequent references and homages to earlier works and some of the most delicious opinion pieces and elderly scorn ever written, as well as (thankfully) conservative use of the cut-up technique, these last three books can be taken as Burrough's final thesis in regards to his entire career.
- The Cat Inside: A sombre and somewhat quirky short novel that showcases a lighter, elderly Burroughs and his love of cats.
- My Education: A collection of forty years' worth of dreams, this was Burroughs' last full-length novel, published as a postscript to the Red Night Trilogy.
- Exterminator!: A collection of short stories ("The 'Priest' They Called Him") and poems ("Cold Lost Marbles," "My Legs Señor")
- Blade Runner: A Movie, a novella from which the title of the film Blade Runner was taken.
- The Black Rider, a deconstructed Post Modern Rock Opera version of Der Freischütz created by Robert Wilson. Burroughs wrote the lyrics for the songs, with music by Tom Waits.
- Last Words: a collection of diary entries from the final few years of Burroughs' life.
Works by William S. Burroughs with their own pages:
Other works by William S. Burroughs contain examples of:
- Bi the Way: Bill from Junky.
- Roman à Clef:
- Junky, or depending on the version Junkie, is essentially an account of his life as a drug addict and dealer, but with the names changed, though he didn't much bother with his own, changing it to William Lee, which he also used as an author pseudonym for this book.
- And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, written with Jack Kerouac, was about a mutual friend who murdered a lover.
William S. Burroughs in popular culture
- He can be seen on the album cover of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
- The band Steely Dan was named after a dildo in Naked Lunch.
- Soft Machine took its name from Burroughs' novel "Soft Machine".
- The term Heavy Metal first appeared in "Soft Machine", where a character is described as "Uranian Willy, the Heavy Metal Kid". In "Nova Express" the word "heavy metal" is used as a metaphor for addictive drugs.
- The title of Blade Runner was inspired by a 1979 story by him.
- Iggy Pop's Lust for Life is inspired by the experimental novel "The Ticket That Exploded", most notably by mentions of “Johnny Yen” (described by Burroughs as “The Boy-Girl Other Half strip tease God of sexual frustration”) and “hypnotizing chickens”.
- Patti Smith dedicated her album Wave (1979) to him in the liner notes.
- He has a cameo in Gus Van Sant's Drugstore Cowboy and Even Cowgirls Get The Blues.
- Sonic Youth, John Cale, and others provided musical back-up to Burroughs' 1990 Spoken Word in Music album "Dead City Radio". He also performed on two other spoken word in music albums: Seven Souls (1989) with Material and Spare Ass Annie And Other Tales (1993) with Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy.
- The Black Rider by Tom Waits was written in collaboration with Burroughs, who also has a spoken word track on the album: "It Ain't No Sin".
- He appears in the music video of "Last Night On Earth" by U2.
- He recites the spoken word piece "Sharkey's Night" on Laurie Anderson's "Mister Heartbreak" (1984). He later appears on screen several times during Anderson's 1986 concert film Home of the Brave, at one point dancing a slow-motion tango with the singer.
- On "Seven Souls (1989)" by Bill Laswell's band Material he recites passages from his novel "The Western Lands".
- "Quick Fix" (1992) was a collaboration with Ministry.
- Kurt Cobain created layers of guitar feedback and distortion to accompany ""The Priest" They Called Him", where Burroughs reads his own eponymous short story on record. The author also introduced Cobain to Lead Belly, which inspired Cobain to sing "Where Did You Sleep Last Night", a cover of Leadbelly's "In The Pines", on MTV Unplugged in New York.
- The album "Stoned Immaculate" (2000) has a track where Burroughs reads poetry by The Doors frontman Jim Morrison, accompanied by the singer yelping and groaning in the background. Both Morrison and Burroughs were dead by the time this album was released.
- Archer reveals Woodhouse was the one who shot Burroughs' wife in Mexico while high on heroin. Malory mentions she paid 100,000 pesos in bribes and contracted some kind of stomach virus to extract Woodhouse.
- John Zorn's "Interzone" (2010) and "Dreamachines" (2013) pay tribute to William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin. "Nova Express" (2011) is also inspired by Burroughs' prose.