© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Lawrence Celebrates Beat Generation Icon William S. Burroughs At 100

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of William S. Burroughs, who was born in St. Louis, Mo., in 1914. A writer, painter, and spoken word artist, Burroughs is considered one of the seminal members of the Beat Generation. He spent his final years living in Lawrence, Kan.

Burroughs traveled the world with stops in cities such as London, Mexico City, New York, Paris, and Tangier. Those years of experimentation made their way into his writings. Today, he's probably as well-known for his low, flat, gravelly voice as his semi-autobiographical works about drug culture, such as Junky and Naked Lunch.

In an interview with The Paris Review, Burroughs said he "created an alteration in the reader's consciousness."

"You know, they ask me if I were on a desert island and knew nobody would ever see what I wrote, would I go on writing. My answer is most emphatically yes. I would go on writing for company. Because I'm creating an imaginary—it's always imaginary—world in which I would like to live."

In 1981, Burroughs settled in Lawrence where he lived until his death at the age of 83 in 1997.  The New York Times wrotethat in Burroughs' final years, he "lived simply with three cats and indulged his interests in painting and photography and in collecting and discharging firearms."

Exhibitions, performances, films, and talks are scheduled in Lawrence to celebrate the life and legacy of William S. Burroughs, including these highlights:

  • Jan. 17 - March 2: William S. Burroughs, Creative Observer, Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire, Lawrence, Kan. An exhibition of Burroughs' collections and collaborative work with artists such as Kurt Cobain, Keith Haring, Robert Raushenberg, among others.
  • Jan. 19, 3 p.m.: A screening of the film William S. Burroughs: A Man Within, Lawrence Arts Center.
  • Feb. 1: Barry Miles, author of the new book Call Me Burroughs, in conversation with Ira Silverberg and James Grauerholtz, Lawrence Arts Center.
  • Feb. 4 - 16: William S. Burroughs: 100 Years of Expanding Consciousness, Spencer Museum of Art, The University of Kansas, 1301 Mississippi Street, Lawrence, Kan. The exhibition includes Burroughs' 1992 portfolio of texts and images, Seven Deadly Sins, as well as works by artists such as Jon Blumb, Keith Haring, and Robert Mapplethorpe.
  • Feb. 5, 5:30 p.m.: An Offbeat Literary Tribute, with readings of Burroughs' writing and remembrances from poet Jim McCrary, Spencer Museum of Art. Birthday cake will be provided.
  • Feb. 20, 7 p.m.: Director, screenwriter, artist and collector John Waters, Lawrence Arts Center. Tickets are sold out. Email marketing@lawrenceartscenter.org to be placed on the waiting list.

For more Burroughs-related events in Lawrence, check the websites of the Lawrence Arts Center and the Spencer Museum of Art. The Facebook page, William S Burroughs 100, is also tracking Burroughs-related events around the world.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.