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Banned Book Profile: Naked Lunch

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.

HoCoPoLitSo, HCC Celebrate Banned Books Week – 9/30-10/6

Co-chair of the HoCoPoLitSo board and Division Chair of English/World Languages at Howard Community College, Dr. Tara Hart previews a few upcoming Banned Book Week events in Howard County:

My New Jersey high school reading list made sure I met and never forgot Ray Bradbury’s perverse firemen, called to burn wherever books were found. Pop culture let rebellious ‘80s teens share Kevin Bacon’s Footloose character’s horror at finding that his new hometown is a place that incinerates piles of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five in front of the public library. Much more recently, Terry Jones’s treatment of the Koran lit a global flame that continues to profane what many hold sacred. Also, “Hundreds of books [including, ironically, Fahrenheit 451] have been either removed or challenged in schools and libraries in the United States every year. According to the American Library Association (ALA), there were at least 326 in 2011.  ALA estimates that 70 to 80 percent are never reported,” (www.bannedbooksweek.org). We may not understand, or feel we understand all too well, what drives those who burn or strive to hide books, but the good news is that the drive to protest such destruction and suppression is loud and sustained.

The Howard County Poetry and Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo) celebrates National Banned Books Week (September 30 – October 6, 2012) and our freedom to read by partnering with Howard Community College to present an important conversation between Jeannette Seaver, widow of publishing giant Richard Seaver, and Michael Dirda, Pulitzer-Prize-winning critic for the Washington Post, about the historic role of Grove Press in the publication of banned books through discussion of Richard Seaver’s extraordinary memoir, entitled The Tender Hour of Twilight: Paris in the 50s, New York in the 60s: A Memoir of Publishing’s Golden Age (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012).

“Dick” Seaver had a unique gift for recognizing, appreciating, and advocating for the translation and publication of previously unknown authors, especially Samuel Beckett, and was a unique presence in the publishing age that ultimately delivered to American readers, triumphing through much literal trial and other’s error, essential titles that continue to be challenged by contemporary citizens, including Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Naked Lunch, The Story of O, The Tropic of Cancer, Last Exit to Brooklyn, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X.  The memoir resonates, in spite of his modesty, with a spirit of highly intelligent discernment and sense of vocation that played an enormous role in revolutionizing the American literary landscape, leading it from priggishness to possibility.

Michael Dirda is a well-versed expert on such landscapes and an ideal conversational host for Ms. Seaver, who is fascinating in her own right as an accomplished musician and later publisher who shared her husband’s intellectual and professional life and has her own opinions of and experiences with many of the literati mentioned in the book. It promises to be an engrossing, important, provocative, and academically enriching event, so come join today’s literati 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. Also check out HCC’s “parade” of banned books and the media clip festival that week.

Dr. Tara Hart
Board co-chair, HoCoPoLitSo

For more information, see

For event details, visit

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