Issue 69, Spring 1977
In April of 1949, William Burroughs was arrested in New Orleans for “a pound of week and a few caps of junk,” as he later wrote. After a stay at Lexington for the cure, he was advised by his lawyer, Tige, that he and his family of three might return to the property in the Rio Grande Valley which he owned with his longtime friend Kells Elvins (“Evans’ in this excerpt)—provided he was back in New Orleans for his court date in September. That May, in a letter to Jack Kerouac from Weed Country, Texas, he wrote: “Things are real dull here. I don’t even have a car. The Revenooers put the snatch on it in N.O. They are making efforts to condemn it, but I expect eventually my lawyer will rest it from their sticky clutches. Meanwhile I am immobilized in his Valley of heat and boredom.”
The following chapter about the Valley was written two or three years later in Mexico City, as part of the original manuscript of Junk, Burroughs’ first book. Ace Books, who published it in 1953, insisted the title be changed to Junkie, thinking the reading public might somehow be mislead by the original title. They also made 129 changes to milder language in the manuscript, as well as inserting pious disclaimers at seven places in the text, and deleted several thousand words of the text as being irrelevant to the desired “exposé” of the subject: junk. Despite these changes the book was an immediate success, selling 100,000 copies the first year and another half-million since.
This chapter, except for a few paragraphs, was entirely deleted from the 1953 edition and is here printed for the first time. Penguin Books U.S.A. will publish the complete and unexpurgated text this spring, under the title: Junky.
I left New Orleans several days later and went to the Rio Grande Valley. The Rio Grande Valley runs into the Gulf of Mexico at Brownsville. Sixty miles up river from Brownsville is the town of Mission. The Valley runs from Brownsville to Mission, a strip of ground sixty miles long and twenty miles wide. The area is irrigated from the Rio Grande River. Before irrigation, nothing grew here but mesquite and cactus. Now it is one of the richest farm areas in the U.S.