Writers Corner: William S. Burroughs

The individuals immortalized at Writer’s Corner all spent transformative years in the Central West End. Their time in this historic St. Louis neighborhood shaped their lives and their work. Writer’s Corner, at the intersection of Euclid and McPherson, pays homage to their timeless contributions to literature and St. Louis history with sculptures on each corner. 

Born in St. Louis, 1914

Born in St. Louis February 5, 1914, William S. Burroughs went on to become one of the central writers of the Beat Generation. Burroughs spent the first seven years of his life in his family’s stately brick home on Pershing Avenue.

His family then relocated to a home on Price Avenue in Laude where he attended John Burroughs School. He was a misfit and felt uncomfortable in this pristine environment. Feelings of isolation led him to seek an escape in the worlds of fantasy and composition.

His time at John Burroughs spurred his ventures into the world of creative writing, but his imagination had already begun to flourish at a much younger age. During a walk in Forest Park, the young William Burroughs spotted what seemed to be small green reindeer. This fantastical image became a recurring theme in many of his later poems, stories, and novels.

St. Louis Literary Inspiration

Though he left St. Louis as a young man, his literary imagination remained tied to the place of his birth. In his novella, The Wild Boys, Burroughs refers to St. Louis as “the old broken point of origin,” a place he both revered and longed to escape.

He recorded one of his many journeys home in a famous short story titled, “St. Louis Return.” Published in 1965, this story revealed his disillusionment with the ever-changing nature of his beloved home: “But what has happened to Market Street the skid row of my adolescent years? Where are the tattoo parlors, novelty stores, hock shops… Where are the old junkies hawking and spitting on street comers under the gas lights? —distant 1920 wind and dust—box apartments each with its own balcony.”

The streets of downtown St. Louis reshaped his worldview as he sought to escape the comfort of his privileged home life. This spirit of rebellion continued in his adult years, leading to a lifestyle of addiction and violence. These experiences, though dangerous, fueled his writing and contributed to the and allure of his literary persona.

Later Life 

Burroughs only made a few visits to St. Louis following his return in 1965. After his brother’s funeral in 1983, he returned for a gallery show and a reading at Left Bank Books. He received his star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame in 1990.

Burroughs died in Lawrence, Kansas in 1997, making his final pilgrimage home in a funeral hearse. He is buried in his family’s plot at Bellefontaine Cemetery with a simple headstone reading “American Writer.”

Though Burroughs never returned to St. Louis as a resident, his contributions to the canon of American Literature sprang from the formative experiences of his youth in the city along the Mississippi.

William Burrough’s bust will sit on the corner of  Euclid and McPherson. You can learn more about the Central West End’s Writer’s Corner project here.