Barney Rosset (1922-2012)

Publisher Barney Rosset, of Grove Press, has died at 89. Rosset bought the fledgling Grove Press in 1951 and turned the company into one of the most influential American publishing houses.

As a 2008 profile states: “The story of Rosset’s life is essentially one of creative destruction. He found writers who wanted to break new paths, and then he picked up a sledgehammer to help them whale away at the existing order.” Grove Press was responsible for publishing a wide variety of titles that ranged from classic works of literary fiction by the likes of Henry James and Samuel Beckett to more controversial titles: authors represented in Grove’s catalog include Henry Miller, Jean Genet, William S. Burroughs, John Rechy, the Marquis de Sade, and Alain Robbe-Grillet.

Grove also published a variety of works of world literature (including works by writers such as Jorge Luis Borges, Kenzaburo Oe, Mikhail Bulgakov, and Amos Tutuola) and works of social importance that included The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth.

During its early years, Grove faced censorship battles for its publication of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover and William S. Burroughs’s Naked Lunch. Grove later partnered with the Atlantic Monthly Press, and is now part of Grove/Atlantic. Grove also published the Evergreen Review and distributed films; some of their more prominent films included I Am Curious (Yellow) and I Am Curious (Blue) and films by Nagisa Oshima and Jean-Luc Godard and the Dziga Vertov Group.

The New York Times offers an overview of Internet coverage of Rosset’s passing and tributes to his stature as a publisher, and a 2008 documentary, Obscene: a Portrait of Barney Rosset and Grove Press, chronicles Rosset’s influence and legacy. At the time of his death, Rosset was working on his autobiography, The Subject Was Left-Handed, which Algonquin Books plans to publish this year.

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