Burroughs centennial events in Kansas, NYC
by W. Winston Skinner
William Seward Burroughs was born 100 years ago, and celebrations of his genius are set in New York — where he spent several years of his life — and in Lawrence, Kansas, where he lived his final years.
Actor and filmmaker John Waters and musician John Zorn are among those participating in tributes to the prolific and controversial author. Burroughs’ books — among them “Naked Lunch” and “Junky” — were acclaimed by some critics and slammed by others.
Burroughs’ personal life also presented challenges. He was openly homosexual and often wrote about his use of illegal drugs. His second wife, Joan Vollmer, died after Burroughs shot her during a William Tell moment at a party.
Burroughs also created paintings that were as obscure and challenging as his writings, and he appeared in several films in small roles.
Burroughs was born Feb. 5, 1914, in St. Louis, Mo. His paternal grandfather invented the modern adding machine, and his mother’s father, Dr. James Wideman Lee, was a prominent Methodist clergyman and writer from Georgia.
After graduating from Harvard, Burroughs lives in such cities as Tangiers, Paris, New York, London, Chicago, New Orleans, Vienna, Dubrovnik, Budapest, Athens and Mexico City. Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac were friends and colleagues.
Burroughs and Kerouac wrote a novel, “And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks,” based on true events in the 1940s. The book, which was not published until after Burroughs’ death, was recently filmed as “Kill Your Darlings” with Daniel Radcliffe, Jack Huston and Ben Foster.
After cementing his place as a lead figure in the Beat Generation, Burroughs moved to Kansas in 1981 — living in Lawrence until his death 16 years later, in 1997. During that time Burroughs focused on creating art. Continuing his explorations in material and process he created a large body of work.
From Jan. 17–March 2 the Lawrence Arts Center will present an exhibition of Burroughs’ art and collections titled “The Creative Observer.” This exhibition will include works from many periods of his life. This multimedia experience will provide insight into Burroughs’ prolific creative energy as well as revealing his ideas on observing art and people.
Included in the exhibit will be collaborative works with such artists as Brion Gysin, Robert Rauschenberg, Kurt Cobain, Keith Haring and George Condo.
There will be gallery talks, films and performances connected to the exhibit. Burroughs also will be the featured artist for the 2014 Lawrence Arts Center Benefit Auction on April 12. A co-project of the Lawrence Arts Center and the William S. Burroughs Estate, the exhibit is curated by Ben Ahlvers and Yuri Zupancic.
On Jan. 28, friends and acquaintances will share stories and memories of their time with Burroughs. John Waters — American film director, screenwriter, actor, stand-up comedian, journalist, visual artist and art collector — will give a lecture, and there will be four films.
The Nervous Set by Fran and Jay Landesman will present a staged reading and live music on Feb. 8.
There will be a monthlong celebration of the Burroughs centennial at The Stone in New York’s East Village. A two-week program of music inspired by or dedicated to Burrough’s work from from April 8-20.
The Stone is a not-for-profit performance space dedicated to the
experimental and avant-garde. Secret Chiefs 3, Kenny Wollesen, James Ilgenfritz, Dave Scanlon and Dave Scanlon will be performing.
Jalal Toufic will present readings on April 14, and Raha Raissnia will perform live visuals to John Zorn’s film tribute, “Interzone.” Zorn's “Nova Express” and “DreamMachines” tributes will also be screened at The Stone.
A celebration of Burroughs’ 100th birthday is also planned at the Beat Museum in San Francisco.