Barney Rosset, one of the most important publishers of the twentieth century, passed away yesterday. What he did for literature, for free speech, for Grove Press, for any number of young literati that he inspired, can not be summed up in any single post or obituary. I did have the honor (thanks to Margarita Shalina) to meet him once, and it’s an afternoon that I’ll never forget . . . In my mind, he ranks right up there with John Calder as one of the most interesting and influential book people I’ve ever come in contact with.
From the L.A. Times:
Barney Rosset, the renegade founder of Grove Press who fought groundbreaking legal battles against censorship and introduced American readers to such provocative writers as Harold Pinter, Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco and Jean Genet, died Tuesday in New York City. He was 89. [. . .]]
In 1951 Rosset bought tiny Grove Press, named after the Greenwich Village street where it was located, and turned it into one of the most influential publishing companies of its time. It championed the writings of a political and literary vanguard that included Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Tom Stoppard, Octavio Paz, Marguerite Duras, Che Guevara and Malcolm X.
Rosset was best known for taking on American censorship laws in the late 1950s and 1960s, when he successfully battled to print unexpurgated versions of D.H. Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” and Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer,” both of which were considered far outside the mainstream of American taste but went on to become classics.
In 1959, he published “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” which had been banned by the postmaster general for promoting “indecent and lascivious thoughts,” but in 1960 a federal appeals court found that its frank descriptions of sexual intercourse did not violate anti-pornography laws.
In 1961, Rosset published “Tropic of Cancer,” which was blocked by more than 60 court cases in 21 states. In a landmark 1964 ruling, however, the U.S. Supreme Court held that it had “redeeming social value” and was thus not obscene. [. . .]
Rosset’s autobiography, which may be published later this year, is titled “The Subject Was Left-Handed,” a line from a report he found in his FBI file.
The only Skvorecky book I ever read in full is The Engineer of Human Souls, which is a long, wonderful, fun book, that Dalkey Archive recently reissued in a new snazzy cover.
As a writer, Skvorecky was a huge figure in Czech literature, but he was also well known for establishing ’68 Publishers in Toronto, where he made available more than 200 works from Czech exiles and authors whose works were banned by the communists.
Here’s a link to his AP obituary.
David Foster Wallace’s passing this past Friday is a huge blow, and incredibly sad. There’s not much to add to the discussions and appreciations online (such as this one that Ed Champion put together). DFW was an amazingly talented writer, whose Infinite Jest is one of the greatest books to come out in the past twenty-five years. He will be greatly missed.
For more information about the online appreciations, I recommend visiting Literary Saloon.
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