Happy 100th Birthday, William S. Burroughs

February 5th marks the 100th birthday of St. Louis’s own gentleman junkie and agent provocateur. I can remember hearing news of his death reported on NPR in 1997, crying “Burroughs!” as I drove through suburban Minneapolis. Given the life he lived, detailed most recently in Barry Miles’s hefty biography Call Me Burroughs, it’s incredible that he survived the Biblical threescore and ten, and then some. The recent tributes speak to his vitality, even in afterlife; among the best are Will Self’s reflection at The Guardian and Sand Avidar-Walzer’s piece at the Los Angeles Review of Books. Burroughs himself would probably be shaking his head and muttering profanities in response to all this celebration, but what the hell, his vision of a culture permeated by addiction and lust and manipulated by obscure agents of control and surveillance has only increased in relevance in the years after his death.


(Christian Tonnis / Wikimedia Commons)

This week offers two outstanding opportunities to celebrate the work and legacy of Burroughs. First on Wednesday night, at the Heavy Anchor in south St. Louis, the 100th Birthday of William S. Burroughs will feature readings by local poets Brett Underwood and Christian Saller, music by local electronic composer Eric Hall and troubadour Tim Rakel, and Burroughsiana for sale by Subterranean Books from 6-8. Should be a fun night, although I doubt any of us will be able to ingest enough substances to really pay tribute–who knows, maybe some will be trying …

After the mandatory recovery time, Thursday night offers a mellower opportunity: Burroughs biographer Barry Miles will be reading at Left Bank Books in the Central West End (not too far from Burroughs’s childhood home). Miles spent some serious time hanging with the Beats in their heyday and should have some good stories to tell.

All in all, two great opportunities to celebrate one of the weirdest, most original human beings to ever come out of St. Louis, or anywhere else for that matter.

A good selection of books by and about Burroughs are on display here in the Entertainment Literature Biography Room at Central Library.

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