Literary Birthday – 5 February – William S. Burroughs

William S. Burroughs was born 5 February 1914, and died 2 August 1997.


  1. Silence is only frightening to people who are compulsively verbalising.
  2. A paranoid is someone who knows a little of what’s going on. A psychotic is a guy who’s just found out what’s going on.
  3. Writers, like elephants, have long, vicious memories. There are things I wish I could forget.
  4. As a young child I wanted to be a writer because writers were rich and famous. They lounged around Singapore and Rangoon smoking opium in a yellow pongee silk suit. They sniffed cocaine in Mayfair and they penetrated forbidden swamps with a faithful native boy and lived in the native quarter of Tangier smoking hashish and languidly caressing a pet gazelle.
  5. Like all pure creatures, cats are practical.
  6. And if you’re doing a deal with a religious son of a bitch, get it in writing.
  7. A writer does not own words any more than a painter owns colours. So let’s dispense with this originality fetish… Look, listen, and transcribe and forget about being original.
  8. We must all face the fact that our leaders are certifiably insane or worse.
  9. In deep sadness there is no place for sentimentality. It is as final as the mountains: a fact. There it is. When you realise it, you cannot complain.
  10. My characters are quite as real to me as so-called real people; which is one reason why I’m not subject to what is known as loneliness. I have plenty of company.
  11. I think anybody incapable of changing his mind is crazy.
  12. It is to be remembered that all art is magical in origin – music, sculpture, writing, painting – and by magical I mean intended to produce very definite results.

William S. Burroughs was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, painter, and spoken word performer. He was a well-known figure of the Beat Generation and a major post-modernist author who wrote 18 novels and novellas, six collections of short stories and four collections of essays. Five books of his interviews and correspondences have been published. He also collaborated on projects and recordings with performers and musicians, and appeared in films. He is the author of Naked Lunch.

Click here to see a photograph of the author

by Amanda Patterson

Please click here for our Literary Birthday Calendar

Posted on: 5th February 2013

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