On the dark horizon: William S. Burroughs’ 100th birthday

Updated: 2014-01-01T23:30:34Z


The Kansas City Star

The coming year will bring several 100th anniversaries of particular interest to Kansas Citians: The beginning of the first world war will start the commemorative engines at the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial. Union Station will celebrate its October 1914 opening, and also in the fall the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City will mark its 100th.

Here’s another centennial that’s a little more under the radar:

William S. Burroughs, the transgressive, radical and visionary author known as the godfather of the Beat movement, lived out his last years in the quietude of Lawrence, Kan., where he died in 1997. And his adopted hometown will return the favor by celebrating the 100th year of his birth. (He was born in Feb. 5, 1914, in St. Louis, a scion of the Burroughs adding-machine family.)

An exhibition of his paintings and a series of related events will take place at the Lawrence Arts Center, beginning Jan. 17. That is part of a nexus of celebrations that extends to London, Paris and other important stops on the Burroughs trail.

Burroughs had little regard for mainstream America, and vice versa, but his influence among young creatives — and among those who adhere to the question-everything ethos — has been undeniable.

Sure, he fatally shot his wife during a drunken bout of William Tell and spent many of his years under the influence. But Burroughs, as a writer of dark prophesy and a mirror of myriad anxieties, paved the counter-cultural way for the likes of singer/songwriter Patti Smith and filmmakers David Cronenberg (he filmed the nearly impossible-to-film Burroughs classic “Naked Lunch”) and Jon Waters (he’s on the Lawrence schedule, an event already sold out).

His gravelly, hard-boiled, and mordantly humorous voice, as well as his nightmare landscapes of sex, drugs and authoritative systems are most definitely acquired tastes. He played with the conventions of such popular genres as old-time Westerns and science fiction, but he did so with an acid-edged pen. Enter at your own risk.

To reach Steve Paul, call 816-234-4762 or send email to Follow him at

Deal Saver Subscribe today!


The Kansas City Star is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Kansas City Star uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here