In late summer 1953, as he returned to Mexico City after a seven-month expedition through the jungles of Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru, William Burroughs began a notebook of final reflections on his four years in Latin America. His first novel, Junkie, had just been published and he would soon be back in New York to meet Allen Ginsberg and together complete the manuscripts of what became The Yage Letters and Queer. Yet this notebook, the sole survivor from that period, reveals Burroughs not as a writer on the verge of success, but as a man staring down personal catastrophe and visions of looming cultural disaster.
Losses that will not let go of him haunt Burroughs throughout the notebook: “Bits of it keep floating back to me like memories of a daytime nightmare.” However, out of these dark reflections we see emerge vivid fragments of Burroughs’ fiction and, even more tellingly, unique, primary evidence for the remarkable ways in which his early manuscripts evolved. Assembled in facsimile and transcribed by Geoffrey D. Smith, John M. Bennett, and Burroughs scholar Oliver Harris, the notebook forces us to change the way we see both Burroughs and his writing at a turning point in his literary biography.