Latest News: Posts Tagged ‘Barney Rosset’


Monday, September 10th, 2018

Last year I had the pleasure of reading Barney Rosset’s fascinating memoir, Rosset: My Life in Publishing and How I Fought Censorship (OR Books, 2017). I knew him, as most readers do, as the founder of Grove Press and Evergreen Review, the man who published D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer amid landmark court cases, and even as a man who distributed landmark films like Vilgot Sjöman’s I Am Curious (Yellow) (1967) and I Am Curious (Blue) (1968)..

Read the full article here.

James Joyce Literary Supplement calls ROSSET “Laudatory and revealing . . . compelling reading.”

Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

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“Intimately intriguing”: ROSSET reviewed in the Los Angeles Review of Books

Monday, October 31st, 2016

OPINIONATED, IRASCIBLE, BRAZEN but smart, a gutsy dynamo of American alternative publishing, Barney Rosset was a 130-pound bantamweight on amphetamines with a bear’s loyal heart and stubbornness, a rum-and-coke man who often forgot about the need for food to accompany his drinks at lunch. His memoir My Life in Publishing tells the story of the press he founded and how it would forever change American culture.

His mother was a descendant of Irish tenant farmers whose land was mostly peat bog that served as low-grade fuel. The Tansley family used Gaelic as code and was involved in a clandestine struggle in 19th-century Ireland, part of an underclass exploited by Anglo-Irish aristocrats who actually owned the land. Rosset’s red-headed mother, working as a bank teller in Chicago, met and married Barnet Rosset, the son of Russian Jews from Moscow, who so excelled at accounting that he administered a series of small banks.

Rosset was an indulged only child, sent to progressive schools, and, despite the ravages of the Great Depression, the first kid in his fancy high school to own his own automobile. In 1940, he spent his freshman year of college at Swarthmore, not because of any commitment to the Quaker values stressed at that institution, but because he wanted to stay close to a girl he had fallen in love with in high school. He felt stultified as a student, but describes compensating for his boredom with academic proprieties in an autodidactic manner:
I had always been drawn to books that were considered risky. When I was at Swarthmore in 1940, I asked my parents to send me 50 books, all of which were published by New Directions or the Modern Library. And before that, when I was in Chicago attending high school, I went to Marshall Field & Co. to get books by John Steinbeck, James Farrell, and other writers considered too daring to read.
One of the books that most intrigued him was Henry Miller’s short prose collection The Cosmological Eye, which had been just published by James Laughlin at New Directions. This was where Rosset first learned about Miller’s banned novel, Tropic of Cancer. He discovered a copy of a pirated edition in Frances Steloff’s Gotham Book Mart in Manhattan — she sold him a copy that she kept under the counter. Rosset was drawn to Miller’s attacks on conformity and wrote a paper for his English class, “Henry Miller Versus Our Way of Life.” His professor, the distinguished literary historian Robert Spiller, rewarded him with a B minus. Probably speaking for the entire country at the time, Spiller pronounced that Miller was jaundiced, but the impact of Tropic of Cancer would linger.

Read the full article here.

“I believe . . . 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”: ROSSET is reviewed by the New York Times

Friday, October 14th, 2016

Read the full reivew here.

The story of Grove Theater: HAROLD PINTER and other playwrights

Monday, July 18th, 2016

Read the story of Harold Pinter’s time in New York—and a little-known account of his Broadway debut

Barney Rosset’s championing of new theater at Grove Press in the late 1950s, including work by such playwrights as Eugène Ionesco, Tom Stoppard, Amiri Baraka, and Bertolt Brecht, would influence modern drama internationally for decades to come.



Of the many accomplishments of Barney Rosset at Grove Press—introducing such writers as Kenzaburō Ōe, Samuel Beckett, and Marguerite Duras to North America, battling American obscenity laws to publish unexpurgated editions of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, championing such legendary films as I Am Curious (Yellow) and Norman Mailer’s Maidstone—the production of new theater in the United States in the late 1950s would influence modern drama internationally for decades to come. The stable of playwrights Rosset developed—Jean Genet, Eugène Ionesco, Tom Stoppard, David Mamet, Amiri Baraka, William Inge, Václav Havel, Bertolt Brecht, and Harold Pinter—rendered Grove an estimable force in theater, perhaps more influential than any other publisher of the century. What follows is an account from Rosset’s long-awaited autobiography of the Broadway debut of Harold Pinter, and his time in New York with his publisher.


An excerpt from Rosset:

When we signed up Pinter, I remember very well that we had not yet seen one of his plays performed, but his scripts clearly showed his writing was brilliant. The way he used silence was reminiscent, to me, of Beckett—but different. There was an all-pervading sense of menace. The Dumb Waiter was a good example. Pure menace, terrifying, brilliant theater charged with a silent danger.

Pinter’s agent was Jimmy Wax. He and Harold were close friends. In New York they premiered The Homecoming on Broadway, but opening night was less than triumphant with many in the audience hating it. I remember asking Jimmy, “Who the hell did you invite to this opening?” I mean, at an opening when an author is already very well known, you can pick and choose whom you’re inviting—and you’re giving away many tickets. At least you ought to get people who might like the play. But on that first night one woman in the audience stood up and shouted in the middle of the first act: “Let’s get out of here, this is terrible!”

Pinter always talked and even acted as if he were a character in one of his plays. During the New York blackout of 1965, Cristina and I were in a Greenwich Village restaurant with Harold and my wife’s sister. Initially, when the lights went out, we thought that the blackout was confined to the restaurant and its immediate vicinity. I got my car from our nearby house, parked it facing the restaurant, and turned on the headlights so we could see to eat. The restaurant staff did not object. We slowly realized there was a total blackout extending as far as we could see uptown. Harold sat there silently for a long time, then suddenly said, “Does this happen very often here?” I waited for about three minutes before answering, as if we were in one of his plays, and then said, “Not often. Every twenty years or so.” Finally, Harold asked us to go back with him to his room at the luxurious, blacked-out Carlyle Hotel. We did and a city police officer carrying a flashlight escorted us up a back stairway. Back in his room, Harold read to us by candlelight a poem he had recently written. It was a memorable evening.

Pinter asked Beckett to critique everything he wrote, and Beckett liked Pinter both as a friend and as a writer, and paid him and his work close attention. The reverse was equally true.


Further Reading


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A star deserves a star: Kirkus Reviews gives ROSSET a starred review

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

A self-portrait of the man who reshaped how we think about language, literature and sex

The renegade of 20th-century publishing, Barney Rosset, began work on his autobiography a decade before his death in 2012. Several publishers and editors later, it finally sees the light of day.



… a must for anyone interested in 20th-century American publishing and culture.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)


This “candid self-portrait” (Publishers Weekly) of “the one-in-a-million Barney Rosset, America’s bravest publisher” (Paul Auster) tells “a colorful and rollicking history” (Publishers Weekly) of the one person of whom it could be said he “represents the literary world of the latter half of the 20th century” (Kenzaburō Ōe).



Rosset is now shipping: only direct from OR Books. Not available on Amazon or in stores until January.

Further Reading

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“Vivid and informative” BARNEY ROSSET reviewed by Kirkus

Monday, June 20th, 2016

“Presented by the Rosset estate with a memoir that had been “pruned to death,” OR Books founder John Oakes, who worked at Grove in the 1980s, went back to the archives and added material that better represented the boss he describes as “either brooding, laughing, or raging.” That charismatic man practically leaps off the pages of these salty reminiscences, which begin with a tribute by Rosset to his gamekeeper-assassinating Irish great-grandfather and the assertion, “Rebellion runs in my family’s blood.”

To hear more, visit Kirkus Reviews

“A candid self portrait.” BARNEY ROSSET in Publishers Weekly

Monday, April 18th, 2016

OR Books co-publisher Oakes, whose first boss in publishing was Rosset at Grove, said, “Young people don’t know this is the guy who changed the publishing world. They should. A case can be made that Barney changed worldwide culture, but it is incontrovertible that he changed American culture. From early on he was determined that a person should have the right to read whatever he wanted and publish whatever he wanted.”

But Rosset is more than a history of First Amendment litigation—it is a (characteristically) candid self-portrait by America’s foremost maverick publisher, as well as a colorful and rollicking history of Grove.

To hear more, visit Publisher’s Weekly.

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