Barney Rosset  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Barnet Lee Rosset, Jr. (May 28, 1922 – February 21, 2012) was the former owner of the publishing house Grove Press, and publisher and Editor-in-Chief of the magazine Evergreen Review. He led a successful legal battle to publish the uncensored version of D. H. Lawrence's novel Lady Chatterley's Lover, and later was the American publisher of Henry Miller's controversial novel Tropic of Cancer. The right to publish and distribute Miller's novel in the United States was affirmed by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1964, in a landmark ruling for free speech and the First Amendment.


Early life

Rosset was born and raised in Chicago, and attended the progressive Francis Parker School, where he was best friends was renowned cinematographer Haskell Wexler. He went on to study at Swarthmore College, UCLA, and the New School for Social Research. During World War II, he served in the Army Signal Corps as an officer in a photographic company stationed in China. Rosset married American Abstract Expressionist painter Joan Mitchell in 1949. The couple later divorced. Mitchell was instrumental in Rosset's acquisition of Grove Press. He owned an East Hampton Long Island quonset hut, previously used as a studio by painter Robert Motherwell.

Grove Press and Evergreen Review writers

Rosset introduced American readers to numerous significant writers, including Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, Eugène Ionesco, Tom Stoppard, Harold Pinter and Kenzaburo Oe. Interviewed by Tin House publisher Win McCormack, Rosset talked about publishing Beckett:

I had actually read a little bit of Beckett in Transition Magazine and a couple of other places. I was going to the New School. My New School life and the beginnings of Grove crossed over. At the New School I had professors like Wallace Fowlie, Alfred Kazin, Stanley Kunitz and others, who were very, very important to me. I was doing a great deal of reading and writing papers for them, and one day I read in The New York Times about a play called Waiting for Godot that was going on in Paris. It was a small clip, but it made me very interested. I got hold of it and read it in the French edition. It had something to say to me. Oddly enough, it had a sense of desolation, like Miller, though in its language, its lack of verbiage, it was the opposite of Miller. Still, the sense of a very contemporary lost soul was compelling. I got Wallace Fowlie to read it. His specialty was French literature. His judgment meant a lot to me even though he was so different from me. He was a convert to Catholicism, he was gay, and incredibly intelligent. He read the play and told me that he thought - and this before anybody had really heard about it much - that it would be one of the most important works of the 20th Century. And Sylvia Beach got involved in it somehow. She was a friend and admirer of Beckett. Waiting for Godot just hit something in me. I got what Beckett writing was available and published it. He flew into the web and got trapped. He had been turned down by Simon and Schuster, I found out, much earlier, on an earlier novel.

Launched in 1957, Evergreen Review pushed the limits of censorship, inspiring hundreds of thousands of younger Americans to embrace the counterculture. Grove Press published Beat Generation writers, including William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Hubert Selby, Jr. and Jack Kerouac. Rosset also purchased the American distribution rights to the Swedish film I Am Curious (Yellow).

The online Evergreen Review features Beat classics as well as debuts of contemporary writers, including Giannina Braschi and Dennis Nurkse. In 2007, Rossett married Astrid Myers, managing editor of the online Evergreen Review. In 2008, Rosset completed writing his autobiography.


Obscene, a documentary feature about Rosset by Neil Ortenberg and Daniel O’Connor, was released September 26, 2008. The film was a selection of the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival. Featured in the film are Amiri Baraka, Lenny Bruce, William S. Burroughs, Jim Carroll, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, Al Goldstein, Erica Jong, Ray Manzarek, Michael McClure, Henry Miller, John Rechy, Ed Sanders, John Sayles, Gore Vidal, John Waters and Malcolm X.


Rosset was awarded the French title Commandeur dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1999. He was honored by the National Coalition Against Censorship on October 21, 2008 for his work in defending free expression. On November 19, 2008, Rosset received a lifetime achievement award from the National Book Foundation in honor of his contributions to American publishing.

Further reading

  • Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. X, no. 3, fall 1990 "Grove Press Issue"

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Barney Rosset" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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