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Queer is the title of an early short novel (written 1951–1953, published 1985) by William S. Burroughs. It is partially a sequel to his earlier novel, Junkie. That novel ends with the stated ambition of finding the ultimate ‘high’- a telepathic drug called Yage. Queer, although not totally devoted to that quest, does include a trip to South America looking for the substance.

The novel is noteworthy in Burroughs' development as a writer, for it has a detached cinematic quality that is absent from his later novels. However, it also contains the first seeds of ‘routines’- the long wild-eyed monologues that would gush forth in Naked Lunch and later fiction- and mark Burroughs’ craft as radically satirical. In Queer, Lee tries to attract the attention of Allerton with long barstool eruptions.

Plot summary

The novel begins with the introduction of a new character in Burroughs' writing - 'Lee', who begins by recounting his life in Mexico Citymarker among an American expatriate crowd of college students and bar owners surviving on part-time jobs and GI Bill benefits. The novel is distinct from Junkie, since it is written in third-person and Burroughs himself later commented in the "Introduction" published in 1985, that it represents him off heroin, whereas in Junkie, his narrator was emotionally and psychologically ‘protected’ by his addiction to heroin. Thus the story is confessional, and less of a plot driven commentary on the characters found in the urban underclass of drug addiction. Burroughs’ Lee is very self-conscious, insecure, and driven to pursue a young man named ‘Allerton’. Allerton is based on a then 21-year-old, Adelbert Lewis Marker (1930-1998), a recently discharged American Navy serviceman from Jacksonville, Florida who befriended Burroughs in Mexico City.

Literary significance & criticism

Originally written to be published as part of Junkie, when Junkie was deemed too short and uninteresting for publication, Burroughs lost interest in the manuscript, choosing to have it remain unpublished as opposed to continue with improvements, when Junkie was accepted. It was uncertain whether much of the content could be published at that time, since the heavy homosexual content and theme could be regarded as obscene under American law in the 1950s. However, Ann Charters relates in her biography Kerouac (Straight Arrow, 1973) that Jack Kerouac admired the work and thought it would appeal to "east coast homosexual literary critics". Ultimately, it was published in 1985 with a new Introduction, when Burroughs's new literary agent Andrew Wylie signed a lucrative publishing contract for future novels with Viking. Reportedly, he had not read the manuscript in thirty years because of the emotional trauma it caused him. Much of the manuscript was composed while Burroughs was awaiting trial for the accidental homicide of his common-law wife Joan Vollmer.

Despite being a homosexual author, Burroughs has, in the words of Jamie Russell (2001) "been totally excluded from the 'queer canon'". Russell’s study of Burroughs novels in Queer Burroughs attempts to explain this condition - for Burroughs has not been viewed as a gay author by many readers. Moreover, according to Russell, Burroughs's life and writing suggests a gay subjectivity which has been deeply troubling to many in the gay community.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

An Erling Wold opera of the same title, based on the novel, premiered in the U.S.marker in 2001.


  1. Media Lawrence. ["Death of Joan Burroughs"]
  2. Burroughs, William. Letters to Allen Ginsberg, 1953-1957. edited by Oliver Harris. Full Court Press, 1982.

Sources used

  • Russell, Jamie: Queer Burroughs, Palgrave MacMillan (2001). ISBN 0-312-23923-8
  • Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw. New York: Avon, 1988

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