John Calder  

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"Calder began to publish the previously banned work of two such writers: Henry Miller and William Burroughs. Controversy also surrounded the publication of Alexander Trocchi's Cain's Book, which was a success in spite of a minor obscenity trial in Sheffield. Hubert Selby's Last Exit to Brooklyn, although well reviewed, had a more serious case brought against it; first in a private prosecution by a Tory MP; then at the Old Bailey. John Mortimer led a successful appeal and the company was vindicated after lost in both lower courts." [1]

"John Calder was the publisher of subversion of post-war Britain. He published Arrabal, Burroughs, Durgnat, Duras, Jodorowsky, Moorcock, Queneau, Pieyre de Mandiargues and Robbe-Grillet. As such, his publishing house is very much the British equivalent to American Grove Press, French Éditions Le Terrain Vague and Germany's März Verlag." --Sholem Stein

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John Mackenzie Calder (25 January 1927 – 13 August 2018) was a Canadian writer and publisher who founded Calder Publishing in 1949.


Calder was born in Montreal, into the Calder family associated with the brewing industry in Alloa, and spent his childhood in Kinross, before studying economics in Zurich in the late 1940s.

He was a friend of Samuel Beckett, becoming the main publisher of his prose-texts in Britain after the success of Waiting for Godot on the London stage in 1955–56. During the 1950s, Calder published the translated work of Anton Chekhov, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Goethe and Zola, including most of the work of April FitzLyon, and was the first publisher to make William S. Burroughs available in the United Kingdom.

From 1963 to 1975, Calder was in partnership with Marion Boyars, and the company was known as Calder and Boyars. The championing of freedom of speech led to Calder's involvement in a number of prosecutions for obscenity, including one in 1966 for publishing Hubert Selby Jr's Last Exit to Brooklyn. While the initial trial resulted in a guilty verdict, the case was won on appeal, and effectively ended literary censorship in Britain.

The last novelist to be signed to Calder by John Calder personally was Carole Morin whose "Penniless in Park Lane"

The imprint continues to publish Howard Barker, Tim Waterstone, and other figures of literature both past and present. In 2002, John Calder opened The Calder Bookshop Theatre at 51 The Cut, Waterloo, London. To celebrate his fifty years in publishing, the arts and politics a festschrift was produced. During 2006, Lou MacLoughlan and Louise Milne produced the documentary John Calder: A Life in Publishing commemorating his life.

In April 2007, Calder sold his business to independent publishers Alma Books/Oneworld Classics; the imprint retained his name, while the rights to the non-theatrical work of Beckett were acquired by Faber.

Calder was a co-founder of the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. He was also responsible, along with Sonia Orwell and Jim Haynes, for devising and co-creating an International Writers' Conference held at the Edinburgh International Festival in 1962 and then a Drama Conference with Kenneth Tynan in 1963. These innovative events, intended to draw together writers from all over the world, were arguably a forerunner of the Edinburgh Book Festival, which was not founded for another twenty years. The experience of this first conference was revisited at a Book Festival discussion during the 2012 Edinburgh International Festival.

John Calder also led a hectic life outside publishing. He was a major investor in the Partisan Coffee House, a radical New Left venue in Soho. In 1970, he stood for election as a Scottish Liberal Party candidate for Kinross and Western Perthshire, finishing 4th.

However, he was otherwise mainly known for his interests in the arts in general and his passion for opera in particular. In 1963 he founded and ran for some ten years Ledlanet Nights, a general festival of the arts, held in the hall of his then home, a baronial house at Ledlanet near Milnathort.

As his publishing activity lessened, Calder has developed his own writing. He published his autobiography, Pursuit: the Uncensored Memoirs of John Calder, in 2001, and various other works related to Beckett.

Personal life

Calder was married to Christya Myling from 1954 to 1961. They have a daughter named Jamie (b. 1954). Calder and Bettina Jonic were married in 1961. That lasted until 1975, and produced another daughter, Anastasia (b. 1963).

John Calder married Sheila Colvin some years ago, who had been a friend and partner from his earliest involvement with the arts, and the Traverse Theatre. She is a former associate director of the Edinburgh International Festival and director of the Aldeburgh Festival. They lived in Edinburgh and Paris.

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

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