The Lost Years of William S. Burroughs

Beats in South Texas

978-1-58544-547-9 Paperback
6 x 9 x 0 in
208 pp. 11 b&w photos.
Pub Date: 05/23/2006


  • Paperback $19.95
The sometimes raunchy, often legally dubious New York and Mexican exploits of William S. Burroughs, one of the godfathers of the "Beat" generation, are well known. Less familiar are his experiences in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, where for several years he was a cotton farmer (while avoiding the law in New York). This intriguing chapter in the famous author's life is thoroughly recounted for the first time in Rob Johnson's new book.

From 1946 to 1949 Bill Burroughs prepared himself for the writing of his first books by, among other pursuits, raising marijuana and opium poppies and entertaining Beat visitors such as Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady at his farm in New Waverly, Texas. Less known, though, are stories about his other farm, a "serious" fifty-acre spread, in the Valley near Edinburg, described in the 1977 edition of Junky. Here he raised legal crops such as cotton, carrots, and peas. Other Beat writers move casually in and out of the narrative, which includes the "William Tell" episode in Mexico in which Burroughs fatally shot his wife, who had placed a drink glass on her head as a target.

As a setting in Burroughs's work, the Valley is central in Junky (1953), "Tiger in the Valley" (an unpublished 1955 short story), and, to a less extent, Queer (1985). But the Valley recurs as a setting in almost all of his books, in some form or another.

Rob Johnson conducted over forty hours of interviews with people in South Texas and Mexico who knew Burroughs, his business partner Kells Elvins, and other "South Texas Beats." Johnson paints a picture of a fascinating place, time, and people: South Texas and Northern Mexico in the post-World War II period and the Anglos, Mexican Americans, and Mexicans who lived there.

Tarleton State University Southwestern Studies in the Humanities

Published by Texas A&M University Press