William S. Burroughs, the stone-faced godfather of the “Beat generation” whose experimental novel “Naked Lunch” unleashed an underground world that defied narration, died Saturday. He was 83.
Burroughs died at 6:50 p.m. in Lawrence, Kan., at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, about 24 hours after suffering a heart attack, said Ira Silverberg, his longtime New York publicist.
Published in 1959, “The Naked Lunch” used unconventional writing techniques to depict an underground world fighting a technological society that was self-destructing.
“The Naked Lunch” was both praised as literary genius and dismissed as indecipherable garbage because Burroughs wrote it without standard narrative prose, used abrupt transitions, placed the chapters in random order and wrote in a stream-of-conciousness style.
The book also was the subject of a precedent-setting obscenity trial because of its violence and explicit sex. Publishers eventually won an appeal in Boston, and the book was published in the United States in 1962.
“Naked Lunch,” which prompted Norman Mailer to say Burroughs was possibly the most talented writer in America, made Burroughs famous as a spokesman for the Beat generation.
Burroughs continued his unconventional style by using a technique called cut-ups in subsequent books, including “The Soft Machine” (1961), “The Ticket that Exploded” (1962), and “Nova Express” (1964). Cut-ups involved random cutting and pasting and folding into his own writing quotations from other authors, newspapers and other media.
Burroughs was an important influence on other Beat writers such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, who were fledging writers when they met Burroughs in New York in the 1940s.
Burroughs was born in 1914 in St. Louis. He received a bachelor’s degree in English from Harvard University in 1936 and did some graduate work in ethnology and archeology.
After moving to New York City, Burroughs developed a heroin addiction and was a junkie for about 15 years. During this period he lived in Texas, New Orleans, Mexico City, South America, Northern Africa, Paris and London. He did little writing at the time, but his experiences were the fodder for many of his books.