Selected Letters of William S. Burroughs



WSB [Paris] to Laura Lee and Mortimer Burroughs [Palm Beach, Florida]
[ca. November 17, 1959]

Dear Mother and Dad,
I am sorry.. Can only say time accelerated and skidded—No time to eat as you see in the photo—(Taken by my friend Brion [Gysin] the painter, certainly the greatest painter living and I do not make mistakes in the art world. Time will bear me out.. Brion used to run The 1001 Nights, restaurant night club in Tanger but at that time we barely spoke disliking each other intensely for reasons that seemed adequate to both parties.. Situation and per­ sonnel changed.. The 1001 Nights closed for dislocations and foreclosures and Brion woke up in Paris.. And I, stricken by la foie coloniale—the colonial liver, left the area on advice of my phy­ sician.. “You want to get some cold weather on that liver, Bur­ roughs. A freezing winter would make a new man of you,” he said.
So when I ran into Brion in Paris it was Tanger gossip at first then the discovery that we had many other interests in common..
Like all good painters he is also a brilliant photographer as you see.. A curious old time look about the photo like I’m fading into grandfather or some other relative many years back in time..)
Rather a long parenthesis.. It strikes me as regrettable that one should reserve a special and often lifeless style for letter to parents.. So I shift to my usual epistolary style.. When my correspondents reproach me for tardiness, I can only say that I give as much atten­ tion to a letter as I do to anything I write, and I work at least six and sometimes sixteen hours a day..
I am considering a shift of headquarters from The Continent— or possibly England—All we expatriates hear now is: “Johnny Go Home”and may be a good idea at that..Terrible scandal in Morocco.. Cooking oil cut with second run motor oil has paralyzed 9544 per­ sons.. The used motor oil was purchased at the American Air Base and was not labeled unfit for human consumption .. The Moroccan press holds U.S. responsible not to mention 9,544 Moroccans and a compound interest of relatives.. “Johnny stay out of Morocco.”
I want to leave here in one month more or less a few days and make Palm Beach for Christmas if convenient.
I was sorry to hear that Mote has been ill.. Take care of your­ self—Dad—and get well. I will see you all very soon —
PS. If my writing seems at times ungrammatical it is not due to carelessness or accident. The English language—the only really adjustable language—is in state of transition.. Transition and the old grammar forms no longer useful..


WSB [Paris] to Allen Ginsberg [New York]
Dec 2, 1959
9 Rue Git Le Coeur
Paris 6, France

Dear Allen,
I enclose material for Big Table.. Hope is not to too late.. So much work I never catch up and all absolutely urgent.. Brion’s [Gysin] work which I enclose illustrates new cut up method which he taught me.. I have met my first Master in Brion..
Back Seat of Dreaming” is part of my current novel.. I have writ­ ten most of it remaining only the task of correlating material.. It is based on recent newspaper account of four? young explorers? who died of thirst in Egypt desert.. Just who died is uncertain since one member of the party has not been found yet dead or alive and the identity of the missing person is dubious owing to advanced state of decomposed when found the bodies and the methods of identi­ fication used lacked all precise techniques based entirely on docu­ ments on person but it seems the party was given to exchange of identifications just for jolly to wearing each others under and outer garments and even to writing in each others diaries an unheard of intimacy in any modern expedition.. So if my fictionalized??? account is difficult to follow so was the action, pops..
I am sending this material to you instead of direct to [Paul] Carroll so you can dig it.. I know you are busy but I think worth while pick up on this action now and I will explain method in detail when I see you also we have other project fore.. Temporary hitch.. My Old Lady [Burroughs’ mother] read the Life article and has thrown off her shop keeper weeds and revealed her hideous rank in Matriarch Inc.: “I Queen Bee Laura of Worth Avenue.. Stay out of my territory, punk..” She has, in fact, forbidden me to set foot in Palm Beach on pain of Orpheus.. And won’t send me money to come home.. I will buzz my Greek Uncle Gid [Maurice Girodias] and make it soon as possible..
Will send more $ when I receive Mother Money. Please send mescaline if possible. Need transport out of the area.



WSB [London] to Billy Burroughs Jr. [Palm Beach, Florida]
Oct 1, 1960
Cargo American Express
London England

Dear Billy:
If you dig The Turn of The Screw you should dig Rimbaud. Noth­ing obscure in his poetry if you see it as IMAGES. Here is a book of his poems with the French translation opposite will improve your French. A game I play is to type out phrases from Rimbaud or any poet I fancy. Then I cut into sections. Rearrange putting section four with section one and section two with section three and select a new arrangement.Try it some time with Rimbaud or any writing. Enclose picture of my self taken in Paris by Charles Henri Ford a writer of novels and films.
I hear you dig music. Try it with ear phones you can play it any time that way without bothering people around you. Besides music is different when you hear it right in your ear. It should be simple operation to plug your record player for ear phones. Please let me hear from you soon. Hope you can make it to Switzerland or we can meet some place very soon
William Burroughs



EDITOR’S NOTE: Norman Mailer wrote to Burroughs requesting that he join the tax resistance movement as a protest against the Vietnam War.

WSB [London] to Norman Mailer [New York?]
November 20, 1967
8 Duke Street
St James
London S.W.1

Dear Norman
As regards the War Tax Protest if I started protesting and refus­ing to contribute to all the uses of tax money of which I disap­ prove: Narcotics Department, FBI, CIA, any and all expenditures for nuclear weapons, in fact any expenditures to keep the antiquated idea of a nation on its dying legs, I would wind up refusing to pay one cent of taxes, which would lead to more trouble than I am pre­ pared to cope with or to put it another way I feel my first duty is to keep myself in an operating condition. In short I sympathize but must abstain.
all the best
William Burroughs



WSB [London] to Billy Burroughs Jr. [Savannah, Georgia]
Sept 6, 1973
8 Duke Street
St James
Flat 18
London SW1

Dear Bill:
Enclose check for 500 dollars. It is indeed difficult to make a living as a writer and my advice to anyone contemplating a literary career is to have some other trade. My own choice would be plumb­ ing, but I suppose they have a tight union to keep this twenty dollar an hour with two lazy worthless assistants to hand the head man his tools good thing from being swamped. I have a friend in New York who is a painter and can’t make a living at that, who makes 50 dollars per day fixing up lofts . . . (very hard work but he gets all the jobs he can handle and works when he needs to.)
I never heard of sucking lemons to keep awake. Ice tea, Coca Cola in hot weather, coffee in cold weather, work well enough sup­ plemented with no doze caffeine pills. Caffeine is by far the safest stimulant doesn’t louse up coordination and appetite.
Just back from a holiday in the Greek islands. Great swimming. Even fell off a horse. All right for a visit. Still looking for a reason­ able place to live. All the best to you and Karen

Rub Out the Words: The Letters of William S. Burroughs, 1959–1974 edited by Bill Morgan will be published by Ecco on February 7. Final letter from Cursed from Birth: The Short, Unhappy Life of William S. Burroughs Jr., edited and compiled by David Ohle, published by Soft Skull Press.