What Happened to Cursed from Birth?


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 The book was to be a selection of autobiographical writings culled by David Ohle from unpublished works by the son of the famous Beat author.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.


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.

5 thoughts on “What Happened to Cursed from Birth?

  1. A great & fascinating reveal of Bill B. Jr…I wonder what on Earth was in the Boroughs DNA for both Sr & Jr to have such Addicted Personality’s that lead Jr to a un-timely demise…I’ve only read Srs work….At some time I’ll get to read Jrs work & see their styles of a writing…

  2. Jr.’s style is more in line with Kerouac and traditional storytelling. Good stuff though. Not as prolific as his father of course.

  3. I have to join Dave B. here and also say GOOD STUFF. I found Billy Junior’s life always interesting enough to check out all information I could get. Of course I got the Soft Skull edition. My personal tip is to read Sam Kashner’s fascinating memoir “When I Was Cool” about his time as first poetry apprentice at the Jack Kerouac Schoolof Disembodied Poetics at Naropa, Boulder, CO. The author met both Burroughses there, father and son. Be cool, enough to get the book. You’ll dig it!

  4. Just read Cursed from Birth. Disappointing because I sense there is much left on the cutting room floor or stashed forever in boxes, so the status of the father is preserved by his admirers! Some bits of bio stop short of what you might read in the the wonderful Morgan biog of WSB2. (the ‘what’s a bodhisatva?’ story) If there are people who want to preserve privacy that’s OK by me but this is info already in public domain since Literary Outlaw came out. I’d have liked more of WSB3’s astute comments on 2 and his work and his poetry. When you do read 3’s 2 books and the words in this concoction they are sharp and impressive. This concoction only makes it too easy to write him off as a fuck up with only himself to blame for a “cursed” life. Hell’s bells how much more cursed would you want to get? And still write so well and precisely. And attract 4 or 5 beautiful, strong women. Lacked interest in guns or boys – how odd. Best bits were the snaps of down and out life in Boulder. I’d have loved to hear more from those people.

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