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Paul Bowles and William S. Burroughs

The American expatriate author and composer Paul Bowles first met William S. Burroughs in Tangier in the spring of 1954. "He was living down in the medina, in a brothel," says Bowles. "He lay in bed all day, shot heroin, and practiced sharp shooting with a pistol against the wall of his room. I saw the wall, all pockmarked with bullet holes. I said to him, 'Why are you shooting your wall, Bill?' He said, 'It's good practice.' I didn't get to know him until '55, '56. He was writing Naked Lunch." (Vanity Fair interview, 1985). Burroughs saw Bowles regularly during these years and while Bowles remained in Tangier, with Burroughs living and traveling variously in Paris, London, New York, and eventually Lawrence, Kansas. While they never considered each other close friends, they admired each other’s writing, shared many mutual friends, and maintained a regular correspondence until Burroughs’s death in 1997. The Paul Bowles collection at the University of Delaware Library includes original letters from and relating to Burroughs, copies of Burroughs’s books, often inscribed to Bowles, and a host of other materials documenting the relationship of the two American writers.

William S. Burroughs
The Naked Lunch. Paris: Olympia Press, 1959.
Inscribed by the author to Bowles.
From the Library of Paul Bowles

Photograph of Bowles, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Corso, and Michael Portman
Villa Muniria, Tangier, 1961
Paul Bowles papers supplement
This photograph was one Bowles kept framed in his apartment in Tangier, Morocco.

Diane di Prima and Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), editors
The Floating Bear: A Newsletter. Issue #24. New York, [s.n.], (September-October, 1962)
From the Library of Paul Bowles

The Floating Bear was a mimeographed poetry newsletter co-edited by American poets Dian di Prima and Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones). Along with di Prima and Jones’s own work, The Floating Bear published Corso, Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Jack Kerouac, Philip Whalen, and Burroughs. The magazine was not sold; rather it was distributed to subscribers via a mailing list. Shown here is an issue bearing Bowles’s mailing address as one of the newsletter’s subscribers.

William S. Burroughs
The Yage Letters. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1963.
From the Library of Paul Bowles

Inscribed by the author to Bowles: “For Paul Bowles (1964) / ‘Yage pintar’ old photographer trick where the awning flaps.” This copy also includes a photograph from a newspaper pasted onto the final page of the text.

Daniel Odier
The Job: Interviews with William S. Burroughs. New York: Grove Press, 1970.
Uncorrected proof copy.
From the Library of Paul Bowles

William S. Burroughs
Letter to Paul Bowles, February 26, [1979]
Paul Bowles papers

Burroughs shares a few stories from the Nova Convention, held a few months earlier in New York City. At a party where Kool-Aid with vodka was tastefully served from a wash tub “just like Jonestown,” American writer Timothy Leary (1920-1996) had been hit in the face with a pie by Aron Kay, who, although he had been searched, somehow still managed to obtain a pie. Kay was well-known for pieing conservative political figures like William F. Buckley, Jr. (1925-2008) and G. Gordon Liddy (born 1930), as well as celebrities such as Andy Warhol. Burroughs remarks dryly: “One hasn’t arrived until one has been pied.” Burroughs muses on poet Anne Waldman’s comparison between him and Charles Dickens made at the convention, noting that the only comparison he sees is their shared concern with characterization.

William S. Burroughs
Postcard to Paul Bowles, February 11, 1997
Paul Bowles papers supplement

Burroughs sent a postcard of the widely reproduced 1961 photograph taken in the garden of his Tangier apartment to Bowles in early 1997; Burroughs died in August. Burroughs reminisces on the photo and goes on to list their friends' current health conditions. Left to right: “Peter Orlovsky: nuts, me with a leaky heart valve, Allen Ginsberg, kidney stones, Alan Ansen, arthritic, Gregory [Corso], quite reclusive. Ian Sommerville dead in car crash.” Burroughs also wishes Bowles good health following a second surgery on his leg.

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