The Yage Letters Redux

Front Cover
City Lights Publishers, Jan 5, 2006 - Biography & Autobiography - 127 pages

The definitive edition of Burroughs’ epistolary novel about seeking hallucinogenic yage in South America

In January 1953, William Burroughs began a seven-month expedition into the jungles of South America, ostensibly to find yage, the fabled hallucinogen of the Amazon. But Burroughs also cast his anthropological-satiric eye over the local regimes to record trademark vignettes of political and psychic malaise. From the notebooks he kept and the letters he wrote home to Allen Ginsberg, Burroughs composed a narrative of his adventures that appeared ten years later as “In Search of Yage” within The Yage Letters.

That book, published by City Lights in 1963, was completed by the addition of Ginsberg’s account of his own experiences with yage as he traveled through South America in 1960, and by the addition of other Burroughs letters and texts.

For this new edition Burroughs scholar Oliver Harris has gone back to the original manuscripts to untangle the history of the text, telling the fascinating story of its genesis and cultural importance in his wide-ranging introduction. Also included in this edition are extensive materials, never before published, by both Burroughs and Ginsberg that shed new light on their adventures in exploration and writing

“A complete understanding of the literary legacy of William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg is impossible without reading this amazing collection of letters and documents centered on yage, the fabled hallucinogen of the Amazon. . . . These crucial texts go beyond simple curiosity about mind-changing drugs to set the foundation of what would later become a literary movement that changed American literature.” – Bloomsbury Review

"Burroughs' book about his search for the 'ultimate fix', The Yage Letters, possesses an equally strange and secret history. Published in 1963 but written a decade earlier, it has long been seen as a fascinating curio in the Burroughs canon, yet a new edition of the book, edited by Oliver Harris, places it more centrally in the list of key Burroughs texts.... The Yage Letters marks the point when Burroughs moved full-time into his own, fully realised universe." – The Independent UK

William Burroughs is widely recognized as one of the most influential and innovative writers of the twentieth century. His books include: Junky, Naked Lunch, Queer, The Wild Boys, and The Place of Dead Roads.

Oliver Harris is a professor in literature and film in the School of American Studies at Keele University. He is the editor of The Letters of William S, Burroughs (Penguin) and the 50th anniversary edition of Junky (Penguin).

About the author (2006)

William Burroughs (1915-1997) is widely reconized as one of the most innovative writers of the twentieth century. His books include: Junky, Naked Lunch, The Soft Machine, and Cities of the Red Night. Allen Ginsberg was born June 3, 1926, the son of Naomi Ginsberg, Russian émigré, and Louis Ginsberg, lyric poet and school teacher, in Paterson, N.J. To these facts Ginsberg adds: "High school in Paterson till 17, Columbia College, merchant marine, Texas and Denver copyboy, Times Square, amigos in jail, dishwashing, book reviews, Mexico City, market research, Satori in Harlem, Yucatan and Chiapas 1954, West Coast 3 years. Later Arctic Sea trip, Tangier, Venice, Amsterdam, Paris, read at Oxford Harvard Columbia Chicago, quit, wrote "Kaddish" 1959, made tape to leave behind & fade in Orient awhile. Carl Solomon to whom "Howl" is addressed, is a intuitive Bronx dadaist and prose-poet."

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