William S. Burroughs: His Final Years and Lasting Legacy

| 2/5/2014 11:39:00 AM

William S. Burroughs art

Lawrence, Kansas commemorates the 100th birthday of a counterculture icon.

When I tell people that I live in Kansas, I’m quick to follow that I live in Lawrence, Kansas, which tempers an initial reaction that’s usually rife with references to farms and flat land.

If they’re a college basketball fan, they’ll recognize Lawrence as the home of the Kansas Jayhawks—one of the sport's most successful programs. If they’re a history buff, they’ll recall Lawrence’s role in the Bleeding Kansas days preceding the Civil War. And if they’re someone in love with literature, Lawrence usually brings two names to mind: Langston Hughes and William S. Burroughs.

While Hughes spent his earliest years in Lawrence, Burroughs made it his home for the final 16, and finished some of his most popular works there, among them the Red Night trilogy. His presence in Lawrence made the city an essential destination for a who’s who of late 20th century counterculture, and most longtime locals have a fun story to share about running into Burroughs in unlikely places, such as the cat food aisle of his neighborhood grocery store.

Thanks to the savvy advice of his caretaker and companion, James Grauerholz, Burroughs spent his years in Lawrence collaborating with contemporary musicians like Kurt Cobain, filmmakers like Gus Van Sant, and artists like Keith Haring, effectively gaining a new generation of fans. One could argue that if Burroughs’ years before Lawrence were spent establishing himself as a visionary writer, thinker, and artist, his years in Lawrence were spent ensuring that no one soon forget who he was or what he did (and continued to do) thanks to Grauerholz's guidance.

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