The Beckett Circle on Barney Rosset

Official Samuel Beckett newsletter pays tribute to the founder of America's Grove Press
Barney Rosset
Tom Bishop pays tribute to the legendary American publisher over at The Beckett Circle:
For Beckett people, Barney Rosset, who died on February 21, 2012, earned his place of great honour in the Beckettian firmament by having been Beckett’s publisher in the United States at his Grove Press. Thanks to Grove Beckett’s works were more widely disseminated in the U.S.—and especially on American campuses—than in any other country, and Waiting for Godot alone sold more than an astounding 2.5 million copies.

But for the publishing world at large, Barney Rosset was not only responsible for making Beckett a well-known writer long before his Nobel Prize, he was, beyond a doubt, the enfant terrible of American publishing, the man who fought numerous, highly controversial legal battles to assert the First Amendment in a climate of political and sexual censorship. His most celebrated—and successful—battles earned Grove Press the rights to publish and distribute D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and changed the face of publishing in the United States. Rosset spent large sums of his own money (he came from a wealthy family), fought the U.S. government, and even went to jail, but he made Grove Press ‘a breach in the dam of American Puritanism’, as he himself termed it.

Having broken down the barriers to sexually explicit language and subject matter in literature, Rosset turned to film. He imported the then-sexually daring Swedish film, I Am Curious (Yellow), bought a small Greenwich Village movie house to show it, and then went to court once again when the film was banned. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and again he won and again his success marked a landmark victory against censorship laws and mentality. Life magazine may have entitled a 1969 article about him ‘The Old Smut Peddler’ but Rosset was not only unfazed, he belonged to the ‘it-doesn’t-matter-what-they-say-as-long-as-they-spell-the-name-right’ school. Most likely he felt that at 47 he should not have been labeled ‘old’. [Read More]
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