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The Yage Letters – William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg (1963)

1960s: Days of Rage


The Yage Letters, first published in 1963, is a collection of correspondence and other writings by Beat Generation authors William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. It was issued by City Lights Books. Most of the letters date back to 1953 and chronicle Burroughs’ visit to the Amazon rainforest in search of yagé (ayahuasca), a plant with near-mythical hallucinogenic and some say telepathic qualities. Along the way, Burroughs and Ginsberg share other stories and anecdotes, including some concepts Burroughs would later use in novels such as Naked Lunch. The book ends with further correspondence written in 1960 detailing Ginsberg’s experiments with yagé. Beyond the letters themselves, the book is noteworthy for two short pieces by Burroughs. The anarchic ‘Roosevelt After Inauguration’, a savage parody of American politics in which ‘a purple-assed baboon’ is appointed to the United States Supreme Court, was omitted from…

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