Dunno how my tireless staff of thousands missed this. It’s as striking a summary of Burroughs’s life and writing as I’ve seen. His best biographer gives a sense of the man and his work that is very different from the public impression of him.
Burroughs came from this rather curious background. He went to all the most expensive progressive schools — which meant of course he never learned how to spell or anything — but he always knew that he was somehow different, shall we say. He was what used to be known as a “sensitive child.” He had visions. One day when he was walking with his nanny in the big park in St. Louis, he saw a little green reindeer about the size of a dog. He was convinced he really did see it. Sometimes when he had fevers he would see little creatures in the walls peeking out at him.Burroughs almost didn’t become a writer because his initial attempts at writing were mainly concerned with recording his fantasies of his crush on one of his friends at Los Alamos School, and he put on paper a lot of stuff which he later became acutely embarrassed by, terrified that some of the other boys would see it. By then he was not actually in the school. He had gone back to visit his parents. It caused a sort of writer’s block which stayed with him for many many years.
His knowledge that he was different from most people — back in those days, this was before the war [World War II] — there was no way of encountering anyone else in the same position. There was no openness whatsoever about discussing your sexuality. Oddly enough, Burroughs was 22 before he finally found out that babies weren’t born through the navel, for instance. I mean all his friends at Harvard cracked up when he told them this. His knowledge of sexuality was so incredibly naive and innocent, it’s astonishing. So trying to deal with these urgings in himself, this nascent sexual preference, was very very hard for him, and I think it did cause him always to be a very withdrawn, very defensive person. Throughout his life he always kept as low a profile as possible.