William Seward Burroughs II (1914 – 1997) was an American writer and visual artist, credited as a primary figure of the Beat Generation and a major postmodern author who influenced popular culture and literature. Burroughs wrote eighteen novels and novellas, six collections of short stories and four collections of essays, and five books have been published of his interviews and correspondences. He also collaborated on projects and recordings with numerous performers and musicians and made many appearances in films. He was also briefly known by the pen name William Lee. Burroughs created and exhibited thousands of paintings and other visual artworks, including his celebrated ‘Shotgun Art’.
In 1943, while living in New York City, he befriended Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. Their mutual influence became the foundation of the Beat Generation, which was later a defining influence on the 1960s counterculture. Much of Burroughs’ work is semiautobiographical, and is primarily drawn from his experiences as a heroin addict. He lived in Mexico City, London, Paris and the Tangier International Zone near Morocco, and also traveled in the South American Amazon rainforest. His work features frequent mystical, occult, or otherwise magical themes – a constant preoccupation for Burroughs, both in fiction and in real life. Burroughs found success with his confessional first novel, Junkie (1953), but is perhaps best known for his third novel, Naked Lunch (1959). Naked Lunch became the subject of one of the last major literary censorship cases in the United States after its US publisher, Grove Press, was sued for violating a Massachusetts obscenity statute. With Brion Gysin, Burroughs also popularized the literary cut-up technique in works such as The Nova Trilogy (1961–1964).
In 1983, Burroughs was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. In 1984, he was awarded the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by France. Jack Kerouac called Burroughs the “greatest satirical writer since Jonathan Swift”; he owed this reputation to his “lifelong subversion” of the moral, political, and economic systems of modern American society, articulated in often darkly humorous sardonicism. J. G. Ballard considered Burroughs to be “the most important writer to emerge since the Second World War”.
Burroughs is often called one of the greatest and most influential writers of the 20th century, most notably by Norman Mailer whose quote on Burroughs, “The only American novelist living today who may conceivably be possessed by genius”, appears on many Burroughs publications. Others consider his concepts and attitude more influential than his prose. Prominent admirers of Burroughs’ work have included British critic and biographer Peter Ackroyd, the rock critic Lester Bangs, the philosopher Gilles Deleuze and the authors J. G. Ballard, Angela Carter, Jean Genet, William Gibson, Alan Moore, Kathy Acker and Ken Kesey. Burroughs had an influence on the German writer Carl Weissner, who in addition to being his German translator was a novelist in his own right and frequently wrote cut-up texts in a manner reminiscent of Burroughs.
Burroughs was fictionalized in Jack Kerouac‘s autobiographical novel On the Road as “Old Bull Lee”. He also makes an appearance in J. G. Ballard‘s semi-autobiographical 1991 novel The Kindness of Women. In the 2004 novel Move Under Ground, Burroughs, Kerouac, and Neal Cassady team up to defeat Cthulhu.
William S. Burroughs – First Editions Identification Guide
|Year||Title||Publisher||First edition/printing identification points|
|1953||Junkie||Ace Books, ||First edition. "Copyright, 1953, by, Ace Books" stated on © page. Stiff pictorial wrappers. Ace Double Books D-15. Bound and published together with Narcotic Agent by Maurice Helbrant, printed upside down on reverse side. Price $0.35c. |
ALSO: Digit Books, London, 1958. First English edition. "First publication in the United Kingdom" stated on © page. First separate edition. Stiff pictorial wrappers.
ALSO: Ace Books, 1964, K-202. First American separate edition. Stiff pictorial wrappers, all edges orange. Price $0.50c. Reprinted 1970, 1972 wide code and price changed.
ALSO: The Olympia Press, France, . Stiff olive-green wrappers. Reprinted in 1969 and 1972 with new covers.
ALSO: David Bruce & Watson, London, 1973. First Hardcover edition. Black cloth, gilt lettering. Black Dust jacket, white lettering. 1500 copies printed.
Note: There is also a variant binding in brown or olive-green, priority unknown.
|1959||Naked Lunch||Olympia Press, Paris, 1959||First edition. "Printed by ... in July 1959" stated on © page. Stiff olive-green wrappers. Decorated white Dust jacket, purple strip. Price 1,500 Francs. 5,000 copies printed. |
Notes: The book was issued without Dust jacket, it was added after a month or so. Book was soon after and again in 1965. Price changed to 15 Francs on rear cover, copyright page changed, ssued without Dust jacket.
ALSO: Grove Press, New York, 1962. First American edition. "First Printing" stated on © page. Half black cloth and boards, top edge stained black. Pictorial Dust jacket w/ white & red lettering. Rear panel "Comments about Naked Lunch" Front flap blurb about Naked Lunch, continued to back flap. Price $6.00. 3,500 copies printed.
ALSO: London: John Calder, 1964. First English edition. "First published in Great Britain 1964" stated on © page. Beige cloth, gilt lettering. White pictorial Dust jacket, rear panel "Naked Lunch" blurb. Rear flap photographer's credit. Price 42s/.
|1960||Minutes to Go||Two Cities Edition, ||First edition. "Acheve d'imprimer le 13 Avril 1960" stated on © page. Stiff light blue pictorial wrappers. Two issues, no priority: |
|1960||The Exterminator||Auerhahn Press, 1960||First edition. "Copyright 1960 by William Burroughs" stated on © page. Stiff white pictorial wrappers. 1000 copies printed.|
|1961||The Soft Machine||The Olympia Press, Paris, ||First edition. "Imprimerie ... June 1961" stated on © page. Stiff olive-green wrappers. Grey black Dust jacket with calligraphic designs by Brion Gysin. Price New Francs 15. |
ALSO: Grove Press, 1967. First American edition. "First Printing" stated on © page. Dark red cloth, silver lettering. White Dust jacket, calligraphic design by WSB in black. Price $5.00. 18,000 copies printed.
Note: Later reprints were bound in black cloth.
|1962||The Ticket That Exploded||The Olympia Press, Paris, ||First edition. "First edition: 1961" stated on © page. Stiff olive-green wrappers. Black & grey photocollage Dust jacket by Ian Sommerville. Price New Francs 18. |
ALSO: Grove Press, New York,, . First American edition. "First Printing" stated on © page. Orange cloth, black lettering. Pictorial white Dust jacket. Price $5.00.
ALSO: Calder & Boyars, London, . First English edition. "First published in Great Britain in 1968" stated on © page. White pictorial collage Dust jacket. Price 42s.
Note: The paperback version was published simultaneously with same design as the hardcover, priced at 15s.
|1963||Dead Fingers Talk||John Calder, ||First edition. "First published in Great Britain in 1963" stated on © page. Grey cloth, gilt lettering. Pictorial black & white Dust jacket. Price 25s. |
ALSO: Tandem Books Ltd, . "Tandem edition 1966" stated on © page. Pictorial wrappers. Price 3/6.
|1963||The Yage Letters||City Lights Books, ||First edition. "© 1963 by William S. Burroughs & Allen Ginsberg" stated on © page. Stiff B/W pictorial wrappers. Price $1.25.|
|1964||Nova Express||Grove Press, New York,, ||First edition. "First Printing" stated on © page. Red-orange cloth, black lettering. White pictorial Dust jacket. Price $5.00. ALSO: Jonathan cape, London, . First English edition. "First published in Great Britain in 1966". Black cloth, gilt lettering. Red pictorial Dust jacket. Prie 25s.|
|1965||Time||C' Press, 1965||First edition. "Copyright 1965 by William S. Burroughs" stated on the title page. Stapled bound, stiff pictorial grey wrappers. Three issues, no priority: |
|1965||Health Bulletin: APO-33||Fuck You Press, ||First edition. "First Printing" stated on © page. Pamphlet of 27 single leaves, including cover. Printed on buff, grey and white paper.|
|1970||The Last Words of Dutch Schultz||Cape Goliard Press, 1970||First edition, . Three issues, no priority: |
|1971||Jack Kerouac||L'Herne, ||First edition. "Copyright 1960 by William Burroughs" stated on © page. Stiff black pictorial wrappers, folded to make inside flaps.|
|1971||Ali's Smile||Unicorn Books, 1971||First edition. Light brown buckram, light brown cardboard slipcase and a 12" LP . Limited edition of 99 copies, signed by the author.|
|1971||The Wild Boys||Grove Press, New York,, ||First edition. "First Printing" stated on © page. Black cloth, gilt lettering on spine. Pictorial Dust jacket, price $ 6.95. |
ALSO: Calder & Boyars, London, . First English edition. "First published in Great Britain in 1972" stated on © page. Light red cloth, gilt lettering. White pictorial Dust jacket. Price £2.50.
|1971||Electronic Revolution||Blackmoor Head Press, 1971||First edition. Stiff white pictorial wrappers. Two issues, no priority: |
|1973||Brion Gysin, Let me Mice In||Something Else Press, Inc. ||First edition. Two issues, no priority: |
|1973||Exterminator!||The Viking Press, Inc., ||First edition. "First published in 1973" stated on © page. Bull brown cloth. White picrotial Dust jacket. Price $6.95.|
|1973||Port of Saints||Covent Garrden Press, London, 1973||First edition. White cloth boards, black lettering. Pink & teal pictorial Dust jacket. |
ALSO: Blue Wind Press, 1980. Two issues, no priority:
|1974||White Subway||Aloes SeolA, London, ||First edition. Stiff black & white pictorial wrappers. Limited edition of 1000 copies of which 25 were numbred and signed by the author.|
|1981||Cities of the Red Night||Holt, Rhinehart & Winston, New York, ||First edition. "First edition" with complete printing number to starting at 1 stated on © page. Two issues, no priority: |
|1983||The Place of Dead Roads||Holt, Rhinehart & Winston, New York, ||First edition. "First edition" with complete printing number to starting at 1 stated on © page. Two issues, no priority: |
|1987||The Western Lands||Viking Press, 1987||First edition. "First published in 1987" stated on © page. Black paper boards with teal cloth spine, black & copper gilt lettering. Pictorial Dust jacket.|
|1995||My Education: A Book of Dreams||Viking Press, 1995||First edition. "First published in 1995" and complete printing numbering starting at 1. Pictorials Dust jacket.|
William S. Burroughs – First Printing Dust Jackets Identification Guide
Gallery of First state Dust Jackets of Burroughs’s works. Only includes the first appearance in book form. Either the UK or US edition and does not include later printings.
- Joe Maynard and Barry Miles: William S. Burroughs, A Bibliography, 1933-73