William Seward Burroughs II (February 5, 1914(1914-02-05) – August 2, 1997; pronounced /ˈbʌroʊz/) was an American novelist, essayist, social critic, painter and spoken word performer. Much of Burroughs's work is semi-autobiographical, drawn from his experiences as an opiate addict, a condition that marked the last fifty years of his life. A primary member of the Beat Generation, he was an avant-garde author who affected popular culture as well as literature. In 1975, he was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.
Burroughs was born in 1914, the younger of two sons born to Mortimer P. Burroughs (June 16, 1885 – January 5, 1965) and Laura Hammon Lee (August 5, 1888 – October 20, 1970). The Burroughs were a prominent family in St. Louis, Missouri. His grandfather, William Seward Burroughs I, founded the Burroughs Adding Machine company, which evolved into the Burroughs Corporation. Burroughs's mother, Laura Hammon Lee, was the daughter of a minister whose family claimed to be related to Robert E. Lee. His maternal uncle, Ivy Lee, was an advertising pioneer later employed as a publicist for the Rockefellers. His father, Mortimer Perry Burroughs, ran an antique and gift shop, Cobblestone Gardens; first in St. Louis, then in Palm Beach, Florida.
Burroughs attended John Burroughs School in St. Louis where his first published essay, "Personal Magnetism," was printed in the John Burroughs Review in 1929. He then attended The Los Alamos Ranch School in New Mexico, which was stressful for him. The school was a boarding school for the wealthy, "where the spindly sons of the rich could be transformed into manly specimens." Burroughs kept journals documenting an erotic attachment to another boy. According to his own account, he destroyed these later, ashamed of their content. Due to the repressive context where he grew up, and from which he fled, that is, a "family where displays of affection were considered embarrassing," he kept his sexual orientation concealed well into adulthood when, paradoxically, he became a well known homosexual writer after the publication of Naked Lunch in 1959. Some say that he was expelled from Los Alamos after taking chloral hydrate in Santa Fe with a fellow student. Yet, according to his own account, he left voluntarily: "During the Easter vacation of my second year I persuaded my family to let me stay in St. Louis".