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Obituary: Richard Seaver

One of the legends of publishing, Richard Seaver died from a heart attack on Tuesday. The New York Times has a very nice obituary that highlights his stint at Grove Press, and a bit about what he did at Arcade over the past twenty years.

For the past 20 years, Mr. Seaver and his wife ran Arcade Publishing, which has endured to become one of the most prominent independent publishers left in the United States, specializing in works by far-flung and underexposed authors from all over the world. But the mission of Arcade, to publish new voices that seemingly flout the wisdom of the marketplace, was one that Mr. Seaver began pursuing decades earlier. [. . .]

During Mr. Seaver’s dozen years at Grove — he eventually became its editor in chief — it mounted many similar challenges to decency statutes, publishing literary but taboo-challenging works like Henry Miller’s autobiographical sex odysseys, Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn; Burroughs’s semi-surreal travelogue of a homosexual junkie, Naked Lunch; and Hubert Selby’s novel Last Exit to Brooklyn, which dealt unflinchingly with drugs, homosexuality and rape. In 1965 Grove published a translation of The Story of O, a 1954 French novel about a woman who gives away her body in slavery to a man.

He also translated more than 50 books from the French, including works by Marguerite Duras.

The Times also included this nice bit from Seaver’s recently complete memoir:

In a recently completed memoir, Mr. Seaver recalled the great literary moment of his youth. It was 1952, he was 25 and he had just finished reading two novels, Molloy and Malone Dies, which he deemed to be masterpieces. He wanted to say so.

“How do you write a meaningful comment on such rich, complex, still undiscovered work, without making a critical fool of yourself?” he wrote. “So make a fool of yourself.”

“Out, damned modesty,” he added. “If conviction means anything, then write from the heart. Slightly less tentatively, I wrote: ‘Samuel Beckett, an Irish writer long established in France, has recently published two novels which, although they defy all commentary, merit the attention of anyone interested in this century’s literature.’ ”



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