William S. Burroughs - A Life
It has been 50 years since Norman Mailer asserted, 'I think that William Burroughs is the only American novelist living today who may conceivably be possessed by genius.' This assessment holds true today. No-one since then has taken such risks in their writing, developed such individual radical political ideas, or spanned such a wide range of media - Burroughs has written novels, memoirs, technical manuals and poetry, he has painted, made collages, taken thousands of photographs, made visual scrapbooks, produced hundreds of hours of experimental tapes, acted in movies and recorded more CDs than most rock groups. Made a cult figure by the publication of NAKED LUNCH, Burroughs was a mentor to the 1960s youth culture. Underground papers referred to him as 'Uncle Bill' and he ranked alongside Bob Dylan and the Beatles, Buckminster Fuller and R.D. Laing as one of the 'gurus' of the youth movement who might just have the secret of the universe. Based upon extensive research, this biography paints a new portrait of Burroughs, making him real to the reader and showing how he was perceived by his contemporaries in all his guises - from icily distant to voluble drunk. It shows how his writing was very much influenced by his life situation and by the people he met on his travels around America and Europe. He was, beneath it all, a man torn by emotions: his guilt at not visiting his doting mother; his despair at not responding to reconciliation attempts from his father; his distance from his brother; the huge void that separated him from his son; and above all his killing of his wife, Joan Vollmer.
Authoritative biography of cult writer William Burroughs (1914-1997).
Barry Miles has achieved something quite phenomenal: 600 oppressive yet irresistible pages that recount in intricate detail a sordid life... Miles is a great admirer of his subject, worked with him for 30 year and catalogued his archives. Yet despite that close connection he has produced a biography remarkable for its detachment and devoid of the obsessive worship that characterises the Burroughs cult. The life of this disturbing and disturbed man has never been so perfectly told. -- Gerard deGroot THE TIMES Burrough's work I can do without. But the life - the life! The example of the life is indispensable: the ultimate un-American Dream... Barry Miles's book... has a kind of speed-freak intensity, with every detail recalled and brought vividly to life, a book of a million wows... Giant, blistering, painful warts, reproduced in brilliant Technicolour. A 700-page literary anatomy textbook: one of the most gratifyingly, sickeningly detailed biographies I have ever read. -- Ian Sansom LITERARY REVIEW It is an action-packed, sensational story -- Edmund Gordon THE SUNDAY TIMES William S. Burroughs lived his life in the grand transgressive tradition of Lord Byron and Oscar Wilde and, like all dandies, he had a nose for hedonistic hot spots which he could mythologise along with himself. On the occasion of his centenary, Barry Miles takes us through these gorgeous, macabre scenarios with an attention to detail reminiscent of Dadd or Bosch... -- Duncan Fallowell THE SPECTATOR Miles's biography separates the cult from the man and shows us that there were, in fact, deep roots to Burroughs's other-worldly, alienated and unsettlingly affectless fiction - about which literary opinion is still divided. Which, 100 years after his birth, is quite impressive, really -- Nicholas Lezard EVENING STANDARD It's enough to put you off your breakfast THE MAIL ON SUNDAY In the first biography to include the writer's final years, longstanding friend and Burroughs scholar, Barry Miles, documents his journey in unflinching detail. THE INDEPENDENT One long, strange, profoundly American literary life. Burroughs's work has had a profound if often oblique influence on the writing of his century and this one. I can scarcely imagine what it would be like to read Barry Miles's biography without being thoroughly familiar with the outline of the narrative. Truly, stranger than fiction. -- William Gibson William S. Burroughs takes us deeply inside the magical life of the great writer. Miles's decision to tell the epic story through William Burroughs's search for his 'Ugly Spirit' makes for sensational reading. Burroughs called his life an evil river. In Miles's biography he negotiates it with courage and remarkable drive. Brilliant, tragic, controversial, and inspiring, William S. Burroughs is a beautiful work. -- Victor Bockris author of With William Burroughs: A Report from the Bunker, Conversations with William Burroughs and Andy Warhol, and Burroughs in the Bunker William S. Burroughs is the most intimate portrait to date of one of the twentieth century's most complicated, troubled, and influential figures. Miles's deep knowledge of the man and the work also provides a cultural history of the scene in Tangiers in the 1950s, the Beat era, and the emerging Punk scene in New York in the 1980s. The end of Burroughs's days, spent in Lawrence, Kansas, explore Burroughs's deep reckoning of what he called 'The Ugly Spirit'-the force which rendered him powerless, for most of his life over the demons that plagued him. It is a compelling biography and social history unlike any other." -- Ira Silverberg coeditor of Word Virus: The William S. Burroughs Reader William S. Burroughs is full of energy and surprise and is a delight to read. Barry Miles combines his intimate knowledge of Burroughs with the meticulous research of Burroughs's companion James Grauerholz, to produce an extremely accurate, readable, and entertaining biography of one of the most inventive writers of the twentieth century. Reading this extraordinary book is like hanging around with Burroughs himself and is impossible to forget. -- Bill Morgan author of I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg and The Typewriter Is Holy By any standard Burroughs's was an unusual life, full of scandal, subversion, and sensitivity hidden behind a cold blue gaze. He brought elegance to the Bowery, eloquence to the language of an underworld, and an international mystique to American letters. Miles enriches this 'life of an artist' with decades of dedicated immersion in the work both published and unpublished, digging deep into archival material and manuscripts, incorporating journals of friends and acquaintances. With great authority and verve, he brings up to date the legacy of a true American original who grows, even years after his death, in fascination. -- Regina Weinreich author of Kerouac's Spontaneous Poetics and editor of Kerouac's Book of Haikus
Barry Miles knew Burroughs since 1965. He was a close friend and worked with him on a number of projects. He lives in London.