Friday, February 24, 2012
Barney Rosset, RIP
I was surfing the net Thursday when I read about the death of Barney Rosset, former publisher of Grove Press.
who died Tuesday at the age of 89.
He, of all the men alive during my life, was the most important and influential in expanding what the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution would and could cover in this country.
I didn't get a link to his obituary, but The New York Times called him "the flamboyant, provocative publisher who helped change the course of publishing in the United states" and the winner of "ceebrated First Amendment slugfests against censorship."
He had defied censors in the early 1960s by publishing Lady Chatterly's Lover by D.H. Lawrence and Tropic of Cancer byHenry Miller. He went to court to fight censorship and won both of those cases.
He also published The Autobiography of Malcolm X, a controversial book about a controversial man. It also has been one of my favorite books.
However, Barnet didn't just publish controversial books. He also published books of avant-garde literature, such as Samuel Beckett's plays and novels, as well as the plays of European dramatists like Bertolt Brecht, Eugene Ionesco, and Harold Pinter,
(The pic above is of Beckett, on the left, and Rosset. It's been shamelessly lifted from The New York Times website.)
Say what you want about Waiting for Godot or Endgame, but they aren't obscene and were never labeled as such. But they were definitely labeled obscure, and far from plays like...say...
The Man Who Came To Dinner or You Can't Take It With You by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart...Broadway productions of the 1930s and definitely in the mainstream of their time. And they still stayed mainstream; when I was in high school, the drama department put on a performance of The Man Who Came To Dinner.
But Grove Press is the U.S. publisher for both plays. And I get pleasure from that because it showed a wide range of taste.
Rosset and Grove Press also published French surrealists, American Beat poets, German expressionists, and Games People Play: The Basic Handbook of Transactional Analysis, by Eric C. Berne.
I used to own older, used Grove Press editions of Tropic Of Cancer, The Autobiography Of Malcolm X, and Waiting for Godot. I took pride on owning those editions of those books because they were published by Grove Press, and also were excellent examples of and for the company.
But books, like cars, often get so old that they must be replaced. I bought a new edition of Tropic Of Cancer published by the New American Library and The Autobiography Of Malcolm X with an edition published by Ballentine Books. Both companies, I assure you, would not have published those books during the 1960s.
But I sill have that old Grove Press copy of Waiting For Godot with me. If it's not in good shape, it's in good-enough-for-me shape.