Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

William S. Burroughs’ last journals come to KU Libraries

February 7th, 2014

It’s been an exciting week or two in Lawrence for scholars and fans of William S. Burroughs.  Wednesday, February 5 was the centenary of the writer’s birth, and around town events and exhibitions have been exploring his writing, art, and deep ties to Lawrence.  Burroughs made Lawrence his home during the last fifteen years of his life, and now, thanks to a gift from James Grauerholz, executor of the Burroughs estate and a KU alumnus, the influential author’s last journals will join the collections of KU Libraries.

Burroughs helped revolutionize the post-WWII literary landscape with novels like Naked Lunch and Nova Express, the latter a part of his cut-up trilogy.  To celebrate the gift, five of the ten journals will be on display in the Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s lobby through February.  These notebooks, which span from November 1996 to Burroughs’ death in August of 1997, were the basis for Last Words: The Final Journals of William S. Burroughs, a volume edited by Grauerholz and published in 2000.  In their pages we see literature, politics, art, and philosophy collide with everyday life.  A reference to speaking with an ailing friend, poet Allen Ginsberg  (“His voice over the phone from Beth Israel Hospital in NYC sounded very weak”), appears alongside a reminder to buy disposable razors.  The final entry (see below) offers a meditation on conflict and love.  To the left Burroughs has written:  “Love? What is it? / Most natural pain / killer what there is. / L O V E.”

Image of William Burroughs' last entry in one of his final journals.

William S. Burroughs’ final journal. Image courtesy of Chuck France / KU Office of Public Affairs.  Click here for a larger version.

 

Image of display case containing five of Burroughs' last journals  Image of display case containing five of William S. Burroughs' last journals, as seen from above.

On display through February in Spencer Research Library’s lobby: five of the ten journals donated by the Burroughs estate.

 

In addition to the journals, the gift also includes typescripts and draft materials for the edition Grauerholz produced. Once cataloged, these “last words” of William S. Burroughs will be available for researchers and the public to consult at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library.

Elspeth Healey,
Special Collections Librarian