Rosset: My Life in Publishing and How I Fought Censorship

Rosset: My Life in Publishing and How I Fought Censorship

by Barney Rosset


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Genet…Beckett…Burroughs…Miller…Ionesco, Oe, Duras. Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard. Hubert Selby Jr. and John Rechy. The legendary film I Am Curious (Yellow). The books that assaulted the fort of propriety that was the United States in the 1950s and ’60s, Lady Chatterley’s Lover and The Tropic of Cancer. The Evergreen Review. Victorian “erotica.” The Autobiography of Malcolm X. A bombing, a sit-in, and a near-fistfight with Norman Mailer. The common thread between these disparate elements, a number of which reshaped modern culture, was Barney Rosset.

Rosset was the antidote to the trope of the “gentleman publisher” personified by other pioneering figures of the industry such as Alfred A. Knopf, Bennett Cerf and James Laughlin. If Barney saw a crowd heading one way—he looked the other. If he knew something was forbidden, he regarded it as a plus. Unsurprisingly, financial ruin, along with the highs and lows of critical reception, marked his career. But his unswerving dedication to publishing what he wanted made him one of the most influential publishers ever.

Rosset began work on his autobiography a decade before his death in 2012, and several publishers and a number of editors worked with him on the project. Now, at last, in his own words, we have a portrait of the man who reshaped how we think about language, literature—and sex. Here are the stories behind the filming of Norman Mailer’s Maidstone and Samuel Beckett’s Film; the battles with the US government over Tropic of Cancer and much else; the search for Che’s diaries; his romance with the expressionist painter Joan Mitchell, and more.

At times appalling, more often inspiring, never boring or conventional: this is Barney Rosset, uncensored.

Illustrated with black-and-white photographs; includes index

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781944869045
Publisher: OR Books
Publication date: 01/10/2017
Pages: 370
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

Barney Rosset was born in 1922 in Chicago to a Jewish father and an Irish Catholic mother. He bought Grove Press in 1951, and sold it to the Getty family in 1985. He died in 2012.

Read an Excerpt

Some people think my chief claim to fame is having published the first book to be sold over the counter in this country with the word fuck printed on its pages in all its naked glory. Perhaps to the mainstream that's all there was to D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover—just fuck, fuck, fuck. I saw the publication of Lawrence's masterwork somewhat differently—as a major victory against ignorance and censorship.

There has been much more to my publishing career, of course, than that. I believe, more fairly, that I should be thought of as the publisher who broke the cultural barrier raised like a Berlin Wall between the public and free expression in literature, film, and drama. My determination to publish an unexpurgated edition of Lady Chatterley in 1954 was consistent with my long-held conviction that an author should be free to write whatever he or she pleased, and a publisher free to publish anything. I mean anything.

This relatively uncomplicated idea has gotten me into all kinds of trouble with the authorities. The resultant battles have eaten up great chunks of my time and energy, not to mention money, and enriched a whole generation of attorneys. But we broke the back of censorship. I think this is a good time to tell the story of my life—as a man and as a publisher. I will try to explain what shaped me as a crusader against the anti-obscenity laws, and why very early in my life I believed them to be an outrageous denial of freedom. But it seemed that almost nothing I did was greeted calmly and peaceably. How did I get that way? What made me into such a maverick troublemaker?

Table of Contents

Foreword 11

1 An Irish Ancestry: From Ould Sod to the New Land 13

2 Progressive Educations: Experimental Schools and Falling in Love 25

3 Off to College, Off to War 33

4 China: The Forgotten Theater 49

5 "The Liberators": Shanghai and the Return Home 63

6 Joan Mitchell: The Beginning 77

7 Partings and Beginnings: Joan, the Hamptons, and Early Grove 85

8 Samuel Beckett 109

9 Grove Theater: Harold Pinter and Other Playwrights 141

10 Into the Fray: Lady Chatterley's Lover 147

11 A Return to Film: Film, I Am Curious (Yellow) and Other Celluloid Adventures 167

12 Profiles in Censorship: Henry Miller and Tropic of Cancer 179

13 Maurice Girodias 207

14 The Beats and Naked Lunch 219

15 Revolutionaries: Evergreen, Che Guevara, and the Grove Bombing 239

16 Attack from Within, Attack from Without 249

17 My Tom Sawyer: Kenzaburo Oe 267

18 Eleuthéria 281

19 A Nightmare in the Stone Forest 289

End Notes 299

Acknowledgements 307

Appendices 309

Index 325

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