July 5, 2010

William S. Burroughs Home – Lawrence, KS

While some famous lives began in Lawrence, other famous lives ended in this Kansas town. William S. Burroughs, the famous member of the Beat generation and post-modern author, spent his last years in Lawrence.

A brief aside on my love for the Beat generation...

I should say now I love the Beat generation. When I was sixteen I read “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac for the first time and like many young people before me, I was forever changed. As Bob Dylan said of the book, "It changed my life like it changed everyone else's.” I came to believe that there was more than my little world in Tulsa, Oklahoma. There was so much more and I was determined to see it all. Not just see it, experience it. I read that book so many times the damn thing fell apart. For the last couple years I held my first copy of “On the Road” together with rubber bands until I finally lost so many pages it became an exercise in futility. I finally bought a new copy about a year ago and have already read it twice.

As I have gotten older, I have lost much of my youthful naiveté but “On the Road” has remained one of my favorite and most inspirational books. I can honestly say that without reading it, I don’t know if I ever would have thought of doing something like this blog. However, my passion does not extend to all members of the Beat generation. Yes, I have CDs of Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg doing live readings and books by Kerouac, Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti on my bookshelf.

But I do not like William S. Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch.”

Perhaps I should be more generous. I could like it. Maybe I would like it. I’ve just never been able to finish it. “Naked Lunch” has no linear narrative and no real plot to speak of. Even Burroughs acknowledged the book could be read in any order because there was no progression from one chapter to the next. I have an English degree and like to think I can master some particularly difficult literary challenges. But I declare defeat after about twenty minutes of trying to read “Naked Lunch.” It is not surprising that Listserve.com named the book one of the top 10 most difficult literary works.

It is for that reason that my love and fondness for the Beat generation has never extended to Burroughs as a writer. But because Burroughs is part of the movement I love so dearly, I am happy and excited to chronicle some of the places Burroughs has been in my little corner of the Midwest.

And now back to Burroughs and his final years in Kansas…

In 1981, William S. Burroughs moved to 1927 Learnard Avenue and would live there until his death in 1997 from a heart attack. He was still a heroin addict when he came to Kansas and would be for the rest of his life. Burroughs' home was like most homes in Lawrence - picturesquely settled amongst the trees. Homes in Lawrence are not landscaped, nature isn't clear cut and paved home to create space for matching houses. The homes are nestled among the landscape, as though they are a natural part of their surroundings and the paved roads leading there are an apologetic but necessary intrusion.

As idyllic and lovely as the home is, Burroughs wasn't resting on his artistic laurels in Kansas. In 1984 - three years after moving into the cozy little red cottage - he signed a seven book deal with Viking Press. During that time, he was also inducted into the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. His latter years also brought health troubles (and apparently a penchant for guns, there is one particular photo of him on the steps of the house holding a very intimidating shotgun). In 1997, Burroughs passed away and was buried in St. Louis, Missouri.

The home itself is not spectacular. It looks like any number of houses that line the streets of Lawrence. But I suppose it is worth driving by, if only to see where one of the founding members of the Beat generation spent his final days.

Travel Time: 15 minutes
Distance Traveled: 4 miles
Soundtrack: "Who Killed Amanda Palmer?" Amanda Palmer



  1. Hello, I wrote a reference article on William S Burroughs and Jack Kerrouac please check it William S Burroughs and Jack Kerrouac

  2. FINALLY got around to seeing this house and snapping a few pics.