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Banned Book Profile: Naked Lunch

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Would you have published this banned book?

Book:  Naked Lunch

Author:  William S. Burroughs

Controversy:   First published in 1959 by Olympia Press in France, Naked Lunch (initially misprinted as The Naked Lunch) was banned in the United States because of obscenity laws.  The book’s subject matter deals with drug use, sexually explicit acts and obscene language.

Challenge:  In 1962, Grove Press published the unedited American edition of The Naked Lunch, that is, as it was originally written for publication.  It was banned in both Boston and Los Angeles, and European publishers were harrassed for printing and distributing the book.  However, in 1966 the Massasschuetts Supreme Judicial Court reversed the decision finding that it did not violate obscenity laws.  The book was deemed to have social value.

Impact:  While his book dealt with “risque” subjects under the McCarthy Era, Burrough’s book also tackled the problems of drug addiction and protesting the death penalty.  The book ‘s overall theme deals with failings of society through the exploration of the main characters encounters with the books more risque subject matter.

Burrough’s Naked Lunch was said to have influenced Thomas Pynchon, J. G. Ballard, and William Gibson.

It is included on Time magazine’s “100 Best English-language Novels from 1923-2005”.

Join HoCoPoLitSo and Howard Community College in their celebration of Banned Book Week at “Freedom to Read: The Historic Role of Grove Press in the Publication of Banned Books,” with Jeannette Seaver and Michael Dirda, Tuesday, October 2, 2-3:20 PM in Monteabaro Recital Hall in the Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center at Howard Community College. The event is free and open to the public.


  1. Simeon Blatchley says:

    Books like this is another reason why society is so corrupt, and lacks all sense of morality.

  2. SWarren says:

    But that is the point of Burrows’ book. It deals with societal issues on a lot of different levels. However, one should read the book and judge for themselves if it is something they like or dislike. In no way is he saying that this is the way things should be, but he takes readers on a dark journey and shows them something about humanity along the way.

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