Family Tree Tuesday – William S. Burroughs, Jr.
William S. Burroughs, Jr. was an American novelist who wrote three novels, two of which were published as Speed in 1970 and Kentucky Ham in 1973. Prakriti Junction, his third novel that he began in 1977 was never completed, although extracts from it were included in his third published work Cursed From Birth. He appears briefly in the 1983 documentary Burroughs, about his father, in which he discusses his childhood, his liver problems, and his relationship with his family. Poet John Giorno calls him “the last beatnik” in the documentary.
William S. Burroughs III (known as William S. Burroughs, Jr.) was born on July 21, 1947 in Conroe, Texas to William S. Burroughs II and Joan Vollmer. Joan Vollmer was the most prominent female member of the early Beat Generation circle. She became the roommate of Edie Parker, who later married Jack Kerouac, while she was a student at Barnard College. Their apartment became a gathering place for the Beats during the 1940s. Vollmer was shot and killed accidentally by Burroughs II in a drunken game of ‘William Tell’ in Mexico City. Burrough III relates his memory of the day his mother was shot dead, as well as the following reunion with his father after he was freed from a Mexico City prison in chapter three of his novel, Kentucky Ham. He went to live with his paternal grandparents, Mortimer and Laura Lee Burroughs, while his father stayed in Mexico.
William S. Burroughs II was a novelist, short story writer, essayist, painter, and spoken word performer. He was a primary figure of the Beat Generation and a major postmodernist author. His influence is considered to have affected a range of popular culture as well as literature. While living in New York City in 1943, he befriended Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, the mutually influential foundation of what became the counter-cultural movement of the Beat Generation. During his later years, Burroughs developed a painting technique whereby he created abstract compositions by placing spray paint cans some distance in front of blank canvasses, and then shooting at the paint cans with a shotgun. These splattered canvasses were shown in a Chicago gallery in the late 1980s and a New York City gallery in the early 1990s.
William S. Burroughs I was Burroughs III’s great-grandfather, who was an inventor. He invented a “calculating machine” designed to ease the monotony of clerical work. He was a founder of the American Arithmometer Company, which later became the Burroughs Adding Machine Company, then the Burroughs Corporation which later merged with Sperry Corporation to form Unisys.
Check out William S. Burroughs III’s family tree and see how you may be related!