What Happened to Cursed from Birth?

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In 2002 Grove Press was supposed to publish a new book called Cursed from Birth: The Short, Unhappy Life of William S. Burroughs, Jr. The book was to be a selection of autobiographical writings culled by David Ohle from unpublished works by the son of the famous Beat author. However, after appearing on publisher lists, the book mysteriously disappeared. Cursed from Birth never made it to press, and proof copies have been selling to Burroughs collectors for extraordinary amounts of money.

What happened to the book? Will it ever see the light of day? RealityStudio tracked down author David Ohle to ask him about the book. In an email, Ohle explained how he became involved in the project and what sorts of material he incorporated into the manuscript:

I went to Ohio State U., where Billy’s papers (such as they are) are kept. I realized that there really was no publishable or even editable manuscript for Prakriti Junction — but this is all explained in the intro. to the book. I decided to make use of what was there — a lot of notes and fragmented bits of writing he’d done while “recovering” from a liver transplant.

It’s faithful to Billy’s writing in that, except for normal editing procedures, it is Billy’s writing. It’s just not Prakriti Junction. Still, I think it represents his thought and feelings and sufferings in the last part of his life when he was too sick to write anything as disciplined as a novel, or even an autobiography.

In short, it’s a much better book, and more representative of Billy in his last days than the poorly-written and unfinished Prakriti Junction (60 pgs, half bad poems) that I found at Ohio State.

Unfortunately, the origin of the book is currently easier to explain than the destination. Though the book was typeset for publication, Grove cancelled the project at the eleventh hour. Apparently Grove had concerns about legal issues that might arise as a result of ad hominem remarks Billy made in his texts, and Ohle and the Burroughs Estate had concerns that expunging too much material would distort its literary integrity.

Currently that leaves the manuscript in limbo, though all parties involved hope to find a new publisher for Cursed from Birth. For collectors, that means that the Grove proof copies will remain a rarity. And for the rest of us, that means that one day we all ought to have the opportunity to read the book.

Update

Soft Skull Press published Cursed from Birth in paperback on 1 October 2006. You can purchase it from Amazon.

Published December 2004. Updated January 2008. Many thanks to David Ohle. Readers may also want to check out Ohle’s new book, The Age of Sinatra, a sequel to his 1972 cult classic, Motorman.
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