William S. Burroughs
Though he was considered "the Godfather of the Beat Generation," William S. Burroughs had little in common with the sons of immigrants who established themselves post-war as America's first unique literary movement. Born into upper middle class affluence, Missouri native Burroughs was influenced by his occult-obsessed mother and a family cook who filled his head with tales of Irish witchcraft. A voracious reader of pulp novels, the teenage Burroughs idolized the gangsters of the Jazz Era while a serious injury treated with morphine gave him a taste for opiates. While touring Weimar Germany during the rise of the Third Reich, Burroughs acted on his long-suppressed homosexual impulses. In New York during World War II, he made the acquaintance of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, soon to break out as guiding lights of the nascent Beat movement. Burroughs also developed a sexual relationship with the unstable but brilliant Joan Vollmer, who bore him a son in 1947. A looming prison sentence for drug trafficking chased Burroughs and his family to Mexico, where he shot Vollmer dead in a parlor prank gone wrong. Losing both his companion and custody of his son, Burroughs paradoxically found his voice as a writer and published his masterpiece, Naked Lunch, in 1959. The darkly satirical novel prompted a highly publicized obscenity trial in America, making Burroughs a cause célèbre and stamping him as an outlaw chronicler of atomic age alienation, whose influence can be seen in the works of such diverse artists as musicians Mick Jagger and Kurt Cobain, science fiction novelist Philip K. Dick, performance artist Laurie Anderson and filmmaker David Cronenberg.