Burroughs and Bowles

The Burroughs exhibition may be over, but there’s still plenty of time in 2014 to celebrate the gentleman junkie.

The Paul Bowles collection at the University of Delaware Library includes original letters from and relating to Burroughs, copies of Burroughs’s books, often inscribed to Bowles, and a host of other materials documenting the relationship of the two American writers.

The American expatriate author and composer Paul Bowles first met William S. Burroughs in Tangier in the spring of 1954. “He was living down in the medina, in a brothel,” says Bowles. “He lay in bed all day, shot heroin, and practiced sharp shooting with a pistol against the wall of his room. I saw the wall, all pockmarked with bullet holes. I said to him, ‘Why are you shooting your wall, Bill?’ He said, ‘It’s good practice.’ I didn’t get to know him until ’55, ’56. He was writing Naked Lunch.”  (Vanity Fair interview, 1985).  Burroughs saw Bowles regularly during these years. Bowles remained in Tangier, while Burroughs lived and traveled variously in Paris, London, New York, and eventually Lawrence, Kansas.  They admired each other’s writing, shared many mutual friends, and maintained a regular correspondence until Burroughs’s death in August 1997.

One of the pieces of correspondence from the Paul Bowles paper supplement is the postcard Burroughs sent Bowles in February 1997.  The postcard reproduces a (now famous) 1961 photograph taken in the garden of Burroughs’s Tangier apartment. Burroughs had stayed at the Villa Muniria in Tangier between 1956 and 1958 during the productive period during which he feverishly wrote much of what became Naked Lunch, as well as parts of The Soft Machine and The Ticket That Exploded. In The Adding Machine, Burroughs refers to the summer of 1961 as the “psychedelic summer.”

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Left to right: Peter Orlovsky (seated), Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Alan Ansen, Bowles (seated), Gregory Corso, Ian Sommerville. (MSS 163s Paul Bowles papers supplement)

“Nostalgic photo when all concerned were in better health,” Burroughs wrote. “L to right. Peter Orlovsky: nuts, me with a leaky heart valve, Allen Ginsberg, kidney stones, Alan Ansen, arthritic, Gregory [Corso], quite reclusive. Ian Sommerville dead in car crash.” Burroughs also wishes Bowles good health following a second surgery on his leg and confirms he does have central heat and air conditioning in his home in Lawrence, Kansas.

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Maureen Cech

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