Joan Vollmer - Early Life and Education

Early Life and Education

Joan Vollmer was born in Loudonville, an affluent suburb of Albany, New York. She left her upper-middle class family to attend college in New York City in the early 1940s, and soon afterward married Paul Adams, a law student who was drafted during World War II, and therefore overseas during most of the early Beat years. Vollmer met Edie Parker at the West End Bar and the two moved in together in the first of a series of apartments in New York's Upper West Side that they shared with the writers, hustlers and drug addicts that later became known as the Beats. These included: William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Lucien Carr, Herbert Huncke, Vickie Russell (a prostitute and addict who appears as "Mary" in Burroughs' novel Junkie), and Hal Chase, a Columbia University graduate student from Denver.

Paul Adams divorced Vollmer upon returning from military service. Reportedly, he was appalled by her drug use and group of friends. In 1945 Jack Kerouac introduced her to Benzedrine, which she used heavily for a few years. Early in 1946, she began a long-term relationship with the predominantly gay Burroughs. The match was initially set-up and encouraged by Allen Ginsberg, who much admired Burroughs’ intellect and considered Joan his female counterpart.

Several years later, when Vollmer and Burroughs were living together in Texas, Ginsberg encouraged Burroughs to break up with Vollmer, believing that Burroughs could never return her total devotion. Nevertheless, Burroughs ignored this advice and evidence suggests he and Vollmer had a passionate affair. Once they were arrested for having sex in a parked vehicle. Vollmer became a mother for the second time after William, Jr. was born in 1947. Julie, her first child, was born during her marriage to Paul Adams.

In 1946, Vollmer had been admitted to Bellevue Hospital in New York City due to psychotic episodes as a result of excessive amphetamine use. At this time Burroughs had been convicted of prescription forgery and was sentenced to return to his parents' care in St. Louis, Missouri. Immediately after completing his probationary order, he traveled to New York to retrieve Vollmer from Bellevue. From that moment until her death, she called herself Mrs. William Burroughs. She lived with her common-law husband and two children. Although the two were never formally married, they had a son, William Burroughs, Jr. Due to trouble with the law for drug abuse, drug distribution and lewd behavior charges, they relocated several times, moving first to New Waverly, Texas, then to New Orleans, and eventually to Mexico City.

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