William S. Burroughs’ “The Thanksgiving Prayer,” Shot by Gus Van Sant

“Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28, 1986” first appeared in print in Tornado Alley, a chapbook published by William S. Burroughs in 1989. Two years later, Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting, My Own Private Idaho, Milk) shot a montage that brought the poem to film, making it at least the second time the director adapted the beat writer to film.

If you’ve seen Burroughs use Shakepseare’s face for target practice, or if you’ve watched The Junky’s Christmasyou’ll know that he wasn’t kind to convention or tradition. And there are no prisoners taken here, as you’ll see above. Now time for a little Thanksgiving dinner….

h/t BoingBoing

Related Content:

Gus Van Sant Adapts William S. Burroughs: An Early 16mm Short

William S. Burroughs Reads His First Novel, Junky

by | Permalink | Comments (6) |

Support Open Culture

We’re hoping to rely on our loyal readers rather than erratic ads. To support Open Culture’s educational mission, please consider making a donation. We accept PayPal, Venmo (@openculture), Patreon and Crypto! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (6)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • vanderleun says:

    What a bitter little man. Didn’t die soon enough.

  • gill says:

    oh hush, didn’t you read the above?

    that isn’t bitterness, that’s reality

  • GMc says:

    Reality. That’s funny. The one word that Nabokov said should always be in quotation marks.

    Burroughs’ grave-mortician carping about the betrayal of the American Dream, as he mugs sorrowfully during montage-milked pithy pauses, is, golly, a bit ridiculous. This dreary, black oil dribbles from the lips of a lifelong junkie-smuggler who shot his wife and then credited that fuck-up — one he slithered out of — with turning him into a writer, in what must be one of literary history’s more notable sentimentalized justifications: “If it weren’t for *that* …” Good fucking grief.

    Burroughs was a talent and an artist, for sure. He was also a complete and utter ass. This isn’t some Nelson Mandela criticizing a culture for which he fought and sacrificed. This is a drug-addled egoist calling out a society he found so repellent most probably because he found himself even more so. He’s worth reading because of the truth he finds in his work, much of it ugly. But the ugly truth isn’t the only truth, and this piece is as sentimental and crammed with self-conscious angst as any pork-pie donned, vintage-frames-wearing hipster ordering a 9-dollar coffee.

    If you actually appreciate Burroughs, then do him the respect of at least recognizing that he’s a phenomenal dick. This poem is an ode to his dickness.

  • Rantz says:


    Don’t think too much of ol’ Bill do ya?
    I gotta get going, have to hit the black friday sales. Looking for a tickle me Elmo,knowwutamean?

  • Melting says:

    What a thought provoking poem. Here is one by James Still that I thought you would appreciate:

    For all who are as unpretentious as potatoes,
    As subtle as summer squash,
    As persistent as parsley,
    As delightful as dill,
    As endless as zucchini,
    And who, like parsnips,
    Can be counted on
    To see you throughout the winter

    And finally, for those friends now gone, like gardens past that have been harvested, but who fed us in their times that we might have life thereafter; for all these we give thanks.

    Tu ne cede malis sed contra audentior ito
    Marc H.

  • Michael says:

    Never. Ever. Have I read a more well crafted retort.
    Well said.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.