Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Barney Rosset (1922-2012)


[Barney Rosset, New York City, June 21, 1991. Photo c. Allen Ginsberg Estate]

Barney Rosset, heroic and maverick publisher, founder of the legendary Grove Press (he paid $3000 for the nascent press in 1951), champion at the forefront of the key battles in the 20th Century against literary censorship, died at a hospital in New York last night. He was 89 (he had been undergoing a double heart-valve replacement procedure). Here is the AP notice. Here's Becky Krystal in The Washington Post.

From his testimony in the "Howl" trial (alongside fellow Evergreen Review publisher, Don Allen): “The second issue of Evergreen Review, which was devoted to the work of writers in the San Francisco Bay Area, attempted in large part to show the kinds of serious writing being done by the postwar generation. We published Allen Ginsberg’s poem "Howl" in that issue because we believe that it is a significant modern poem, and that Allen Ginsberg’s intention was to sincerely and honestly present a portion of his own experience of the life of his generation…”.

Allen (from a letter to Gary Snyder, December 18 1991): "I've nominated (for third time) Barney Rosset for American Academy's "Distinguished Services to the Arts" for his long and successful 1958-65 + battle against censorship in books - and later, film."
(In 1988, largely on Allen's instigation, the PEN American Center awarded him with its Publisher Citation, for "distinctive and continuous service to international letters, to the freedom and dignity of writers, and to the free transmission of the printed word across the barriers of poverty, ignorance, censorship, and repression").

Ken Jordan's 1997 Paris Review interview is essential reading. As is (essential viewing) Neil Ortenberg and Daniel O'Connor's "Obscene: A Portrait of Barney Rosset and Grove Press" (a review of the latter, from New York magazine, can be found here).
Al Silverman's "The Time Of Their Lives" was recently published, surveying Grove's "golden" years. Rosset's own account, an autobiography, "The Subject Was Left-Handed", has been in the works, and will hopefully be available "within the year".

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