William S. Burroughs' First Trilogy

Oliver Harris edits a new collection of the American writer's work
Burroughs' manuscripts for The Yage Letters
Oliver Harris, Burroughs scholar and editor of The Letters of William S. Burroughs 1945 to 1959, makes the case for Junkie, Queer and The Yage Letters to be considered as a collective trilogy:
Burroughs wrote his three manuscripts of “Junk,” “Queer,” and “Yage” during a period of under four years, back to back between early 1950 and late 1953. But they were published out of sequence and spread over four decades: Junkie appearing in 1953, Queer in 1985, and The Yage Letters in 1963. They really couldn’t have been written any closer together or published much further apart.

More than that, this scrambling of chronology and delays in publication had a direct impact on the reception of the three texts — on how they have been interpreted. This is one reason why they’ve hardly ever been read as a trilogy, with the result that Burroughs’ literary history, the chronology of his development from one text to another, has been disguised and confused. But even more fundamentally, this disordering of the trilogy turns out to beg questions about production, since the publication histories of the three titles decisively determined the form and content of each text — and not just separately but collectively. [Read more]

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