Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Grove Press, est. 1951

"That principle, that no one has the right to tell us what we can and cannot read, is one that's always been dear to me." - Barney Rosset

1951 Barry Rosset bought Grove Press, a publishing house which had published only 3 titles, for $3000.

Grove published, among much erotic literature, Camus, Ferlinghetti, Brecht, LeRoi Jones, Albee's first play, French avant-garde's Robbe-Grillet, Genet, Ionesco, politicians Malcolm X, Franz Fannon, Debray, the American Beats of the 50's, Black Mountain and the San Francisco Renaissance, Harris' My Life and Loves (complete and unexpurgated), the unabridged complete Sade, Japanese authors such as Oe, Emmanuelle Arsan, Alan Ayckbourn, Imamu Amiri Baraka, Eric Berne, Paul Bowles, James Broughton, William S. Burroughs, Marguerite Duras, Wallace Fowlie, Robert Frank, Allen Ginsberg, Maurice Girodias, Witold Gombrowicz, Juan Goytisolo, Nat Hentoff, André Hodeir, Jack Kerouac, D.H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, Pablo Neruda, Frank O'Hara, Charles Olson, Joe Orton, Harold Pinter, George Reavey, John Rechy, Kenneth Rexroth, Michael Rumaker, Hubert Selby, Gilbert Sorrentino, Amos Tutuola, Parker Tyler, Tomi Ungerer, Alan Watts.

1959 Grove published Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928) in its first unexpurgated US edition. The unexpurgated Chatterley was sent from Paris to Rosset in New York and was confiscated as material promoting "indecent and lascivious thoughts", something illegal at the time.  May 15 Rosset sued the NYC postmaster, citing Justice Brennan's finding 2 years earlier that the First Amendment guaranteed protection to works including those that had any redeeming social importance.  July 21 Justice Bryan ruled in Rosset's favor.  Appeals Court's panel of 3 judges unanimously upheld Bryan's decision and the issue wasn't appealed to the Supreme Court.  The post office was ordered to lift all bans on the importation of the book, and Chatterley reached #2 on the NY Times bestsellers and sold 2 000 000 copies within a year.

1961 Rosset published Tropic of Cancer (1934).  The book sold 1 000 000 copies the first year.  60 individual booksellers in 21 states were charged with Obscenity for selling it.  Rosset attempted to assist (legally, financially) every bookseller prosecuted, regardless of whether or not he was obligated legally.  Court opinions varied.  In 1964 all findings that Cancer was obscene were overruled in Supreme Court Grove Press, Inc. v. Gerstein.

1962 Grove published Naked Lunch (1958), which had been published expurgated in 1959 by Olympia Press in Paris.  The book was banned in Boston for Obscenity.  Grove added to the book material regarding the censorship battle and material written by Burroughs about drug addiction.  In 1966 the decision deeming Naked Lunch obscene was reversed by the Massachusetts Supreme Court.  This trial included testimonial support from Ginsberg and Mailer.  It was the last major literary censorship battle in the US.

1957 Rosset founded a quarterly magazine called the Evergreen Review.  Issue #1 featured a Sartre essay, an interview with New Orleans jazz drummer Baby Dodds and a Beckett story.  Issue #2 proclaimed the "San Francisco Scene" and featured writing by the beats, bringing them to a larger audience.

1964 April-May edition was the beginning of regular nude pictorials, and was seized for Obscenity in Hicksville, NY.

1964 Grove published Waiting for Godot, which had been refused by more mainstream publishers.  With its success, Grove became the publisher of the theater of the absurd in America, publishing its formost playwrights, whose world-renown established Grove as a serious legitimate literary press.

In the later 1960's Rosset began investing in films, including importing the controversial (for explicit sex) film I am Curious (Yellow), which earned $14 000 000.  Grove went to trial for Obscenity over the film, which was banned in Mass., and won in rulings in 1969 and 1971.  Rosset had been involved in film since the 40's.  By the late 60's he had a lot of money from publishings of erotic literature.  For a short time he owned a theater near Grove's offices.  From the profits of Curious, Rosset doubled the size of his film division, which in the absence of other commercial hits nearly bankrupt Grove.

1970 second-wave feminists attacked the sexist and somewhat misogynist Grove .  This coincided with Groves being taken public, which drove Grove's 150 insecure workers to push for unionization.  Rosset fired many of the striking workers.  Feminists occupied Grove's office, for which he had the police drag them out.

1985 Rosset sold Grove to Ann and Gordon Getty.  He remained president, but was fired a year later.  He regretted selling Grove.

1988 Rosset and his wife Astrid revived Evergreen online.

Barry Rosset is dead.  He died in hospital in Manhattan, New York on a Tuesday night at the end of May while undergoing a double-heart valve replacement procedure at age 89.

The majority of Grove's readers were in college or high-school, during an era when those populations were growing.  Grove's main association was with censored sexual taboos.  Grove was born amidst the sexual politics of the 50's, at a time when books were very important and when distribution of printed matter required uncommon sums of money, distribution networks and self-defense.  People identified themselves by what they read.  Grove entered the publishing industry during a revolution of book-printing when books were made affordable and readership was expanded through paperbacks. It was involved in the movements which would become the revolutionary currents of the 60's. Lauren Glass wrote, "Grove Press established and expanded the circuits through which experimental and radical literature was distributed, particularly to the burgeoning college and university populations that were the seedbed of the counter culture, thereby effectively democratizing the avant-garde. By the end of the sixties, the avant-garde had in essence become a component of the mainstream..."

“We thought a magazine, even a self proclaimed literary review, had to be involved in politics. We felt sex was healthy and made (then) bold use of fiction and graphics so declaring. We operated on a shoestring and still got our issues out on time. In short, we had a ball.” - Barney Rosset

The authors Grove published later became college curriculum standards.  After Godot, O, and Malcolm X, Grove could have rested on its royalties, but Rosset did otherwise.  Throughout the legal trials, Rosset paid for the defense of small booksellers, the cost of which nearly put Grove out of business several times.

Rosset later said that he was uninterested in Chatterley as a book, but that he thought Lawrence was more "literary" in public opinion than other writers deemed obscene, and that Lawrence's book would be easier to present as "literature" to the courts.  Rosset valued this as a means of getting to publish Tropic of Cancer, which he loved.

"Publishing, that grand, battered, and essential institution..." - Barney Rosset

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