The Most Dangerous Man in Publishing
February 22, 2012 8:27 AM   Subscribe

Barney Rosset, former owner of the influential Grove Press and Evergreen Review, boundary-shattering publisher of Tropic of Cancer, Waiting for Godot, and Naked Lunch, and U.S. distributor of I Am Curious (Yellow), died yesterday at the age of 90.
posted by Horace Rumpole (30 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
posted by timshel at 8:29 AM on February 22, 2012

posted by HandfulOfDust at 8:32 AM on February 22, 2012

posted by Mister Bijou at 8:38 AM on February 22, 2012

posted by activitystory at 8:43 AM on February 22, 2012

Retweeted by a friend:

From @FredRamey: "Barney Rosset's passing reminds me that we used to talk about What we published instead of How, when content was a Tool of Change."

This was really driven home by "Obscene", the recent documentary about Rosset and the censorship battles he fought on behalf of Grove's authors. RIP.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:46 AM on February 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

Here's an uncensored .
posted by Gelatin at 8:51 AM on February 22, 2012

posted by penduluum at 8:53 AM on February 22, 2012

Thank you, sir.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:59 AM on February 22, 2012

This was really driven home by "Obscene", the recent documentary about Rosset and the censorship battles he fought on behalf of Grove's authors.

Available for streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime, btw.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:59 AM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

He also had a minor role in the events leading up to the shooting of Andy Warhol.
posted by Capt. Renault at 9:00 AM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had never heard of him, but he helped make possible the publication and distribution of art that I love.

posted by Forktine at 9:06 AM on February 22, 2012

He and the others involved in the liberation of writing are heroes.

posted by doteatop at 9:09 AM on February 22, 2012


you really can't mount a meaningful history of the 20th culture (and its wars) without coming across Grove, or Barney Rosset. The essential paragraph from that second link:

The story of Rosset's life is essentially one of creative destruction. He found writers who wanted to break new paths, and then he picked up a sledgehammer to help them whale away at the existing order. "He opened the door to freedom of expression," said Ira Silverberg, a literary agent who began his career in publishing at Grove. "He published a generation of outsiders who probably said more about American culture than any voice in the dominant culture ever could." A Grove book, said Robert Gottlieb, who served as editor of Simon & Schuster and then Knopf during the years Rosset ran Grove, "made a statement. It was avant-garde. Whether European or American, it had very special qualities; it was definitely worth paying attention to." Through Grove and its offshoot, a literary magazine called Evergreen Review, Rosset was a curator and a self-styled rebel. He published whatever he liked, even (or especially) when it got him into trouble. "I think he was at his best, enjoying life, when we were in crisis," says Richard Seaver, who was, with Fred Jordan, a top editor at Grove.
posted by philip-random at 9:13 AM on February 22, 2012

posted by -t at 9:18 AM on February 22, 2012


Everyone should check out the Evergreen Review Reader. Evergreen Review 1957-1966 contained some great stuff.The reader contains,among other things, work by Alexander Trocchi, Howl, some great early stuff by Kerouac, and selections from Coney Island of the Mind. It is filled with great great stuff.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:26 AM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by holdkris99 at 9:34 AM on February 22, 2012

I'm surprised and sadded when I shouldn't be. 90 is a very good run, particularly with numerous literary and cultural milestones, but Rosset always possessed such an astonishing vitality and optimism, despite the numerous ups and downs of his career, that I'm not prepared for this news. His mercurial personality could make him a frustrating boss and business partner as well as a valued friend (I never worked with him but had several colleagues who did at various stages). He was a dirty old man from a young age, a literary rebel at a time when censorship was a real threat in publishing, a businessman involved with everything from filmmaking to barkeeping, and an all-around troublemaker.

One of his colleagues claims, in a nice overview article about Grove in its heydey, "all the juicy stuff about Barney will never appear in print." If Rosset's autobiography is published posthumously, he'll make Frank Harris look like an anchorite.
posted by Doktor Zed at 9:35 AM on February 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

When I was a teen, the Grove Press books at my local bookstore, were like a lost Eden of cool transgressiveness and that seemed to have some an inkling of just how weird it was to be alive and just how little of that weirdness and broad spectrum of thoughts and emotions were ever truly expressed in the mainstream art available to a kid with working class parents in an aggressively oppressive conservative town. It was really something that kept me going and some of the Grove books, especially the Burroughs stuff almost had an ordinance type smell of gunpowder and damger quality to them that was so in perfect sync with the punk and post-punk and industrial art culture I was getting into (Hmm..Maybe the guy from REsearch books V.Vale or Adam Parfrey of Feral House, can take over for him?).

I didn't know anything about the person behind all this, but if this is the guy, I owe him a heck of a lot and wow, what a huge impact he had in keeping me semi-sane.

Here is an ordinance-like exploding dot for you Mr. Rosset that smells like gunpowder, transgressiveness, neat ideas, altered inner realities and happiness.

'Spark'. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .[[[BANG!]]]

posted by Skygazer at 9:57 AM on February 22, 2012 [6 favorites]

Skygazer, I'm right there with you. When I was a teenager, that little pitchfork-tree on the spine of anything was the social and intellectual equivalent of an emergency beacon to me. To survive my weird, truncated little life in my weird, truncated little town, every time I went to a city, I brought back an armload of Genet, Burroughs, Albee, Ionesco and the like in yellowing Grove Press trade. Half the time I didn't knowing anything at all about the books I was buying: they were from Grove, and that was good enough.

Grove Press was my invisible university.

posted by palmcorder_yajna at 10:31 AM on February 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

Grove was absolutely the mark of quality. It promised something else, something better, something deeper, something more than the workaday never-changing sameness as well as some weird sex or some weird anti-sex, or some death and sex at the same time.

Which YA books are sadly lacking in...
posted by Skygazer at 10:53 AM on February 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

posted by quazichimp at 11:09 AM on February 22, 2012

posted by spindle at 11:17 AM on February 22, 2012

posted by From Bklyn at 11:40 AM on February 22, 2012

God, Beckett's trilogy, in it's just bigger than mass market sized Grove edition, has one of the highest brilliance/size ratios of anything ever published. And that's just one book. Seriously, publishing Beckett is a life's work for a publisher.

posted by OmieWise at 1:37 PM on February 22, 2012

Nothing to be done.
posted by ersatz at 2:05 PM on February 22, 2012

Rosset also struck a blow for free expression in film by filing a lawsuit against U.S. customs for seizing a print of I Am Curious (Yellow) after he purchased the rights to distribute the film in the U.S.

posted by jonp72 at 8:06 PM on February 22, 2012

posted by onesidys at 8:38 PM on February 22, 2012

I was gonna make a longish post about Grove Press, Sade, Tropic of Cancer, Lady Chatterley, etc. but couldn't do it yesterday. I'm glad someone else did.

The first link (Paris Review) is probably the best single link to read. Here are a few more that I didn't see:

The Obscenity of Censorship: A History of Indecent People and Lacivious Publications

Marquis de Sade Electronic Library

The Boston Trial of Naked Lunch

Naked Brunch: Unbanning Books: Chapter 4: From Samuel Roth to Henry Miller

Barney Rosset was really one of the true American heroes of our age. God bless.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:42 AM on February 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

"This fact sheet summarizes the history and current status of restrictions on sexual expression in America."

When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the lower-court ruling that found Tropic of Cancer to be obscene, establishing what's known as the "Brennan Doctrine," it essentially turned the censorship policy of the United States upside down.

People and cases like Rosset and Tropic of Cancer tend to inspire a lot of hyperbole, but this is one man and one case that truly deserves it, imo.

How Justice Brennan Freed Novels and Movies During the Sixties (PDF) by Ed de Grazia

also by de Grazia:

Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, Barney Rosset: Their Struggles Against Censorship Recalled
posted by mrgrimm at 9:57 AM on February 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

posted by mister nice at 7:30 AM on March 8, 2012

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