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Conversations with William S. Burroughs

Conversations with William S. Burroughs

Edited by Allen Hibbard
Series: Literary Conversations Series

Paperback : 9781578061839, 234 pages, March 2000


Although a rather shy, private man, William S. Burroughs gave a good many interviews during his lifetime, some in prominent publications, others in obscure forums. The interviews collected here provide an aperture into the philosophies, methods, and quirks of a man who wrote Queer, Junky, Naked Lunch, Nova Express, Cities of the Red Night, My Education, and many other works.

When he died in 1997, Burroughs was likely one of the most widely recognizable figures in contemporary American literature. His image circulated on album jackets, in Nike commercials, and in films, as though proving his notion that pictures and words are viruses, invading any receptive host, taking hold, and replicating themselves.

Not surprisingly, the topics Burroughs touches upon are wide-ranging: his relationships to the Beats, legends surrounding his personal life, drugs, gay liberation, collaboration, the cut-up technique, science fiction, politics, conspiracy theory, censorship, cats, guns, David Cronenberg's movie adaptation of Naked Lunch, shotgun art, dreams, and life in Lawrence, Kansas, where he spent his last years. From these interviews emerges a full, undiluted portrait of a writer who is difficult to capture in biography.

Speaking of the Paris Review interview Alfred Kazin calls Burroughs “an engineer of the pen, a calmly interested specialist of the new processes. When Burroughs makes philosophic and scientific claims for his disorderly collections of data, we happily recognize under the externally calm surface of the interview, the kind of inner frenzy that is his genius—and which, in all of us, his books make an appeal.” Kazin's view applies as well for the other interviews in this collection.


"Hibbard collects twenty-two interviews spanning thirty-five years. They range from a playful piece by Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, first published in the Journal for the Protection of All Beings (1961), to “Grandpa from Hell,” an interview that appeared in the L.A. Weekly in 1996. Sources for the interviews include Esquire, Penthouse, and Rolling Stone as well as scholarly journals like Modern Language Studies—a diversity that reflects Burroughs's status as both a serious literary figure and a popular icon. [Hibbard’s] chronological arrangement provides a clear window into Burroughs's changing consciousness over half a lifetime."

- William Gargan, Brooklyn College Library, CUNY, Library Journal