News / USA

Publisher Who Defied US Censorship Laws Dies at 89

Barney Rosset published controversial works by DH Lawrence, Henry Miller

In this file photo from 1998, publisher Barney Rosset poses with some of his favorite things in his New York loft. Rosset died Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012 in New York.
In this file photo from 1998, publisher Barney Rosset poses with some of his favorite things in his New York loft. Rosset died Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2012 in New York.

Multimedia

Audio

Independent publisher and free-speech activist Barney Rosset, who defied U.S. obscenity laws to publish works by controversial authors like D.H. Lawrence, Henry Miller and William S. Burroughs, died at home in New York this week, just a few months short of his 90th birthday.

Rosset was born in Chicago, in 1922, to a well-to-do family. Raised and schooled in a progressive social environment, Rosset grew up an iconoclast, and something of a rebel. He attended four colleges before graduating.

In 1951, after serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, Rosset bought the tiny Grove Press, turning it into an alternative publishing house which welcomed non-mainstream writers.

In 1959,  Grove Press released an unexpurgated edition of the D. H. Lawrence novel "Lady Chatterley's Lover." The book had been banned in Britain for its explicit sexual content. Grove’s U.S. edition sparked a fierce legal battle over the First Amendment right to free expression, which Rosset finally won in 1961.

Grove next published another banned work, "Tropic of Cancer," the semi-autobiographical novel by American expatriate writer Henry Miller. That legal battle went to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a landmark 1964 ruling, the justices ruled "Tropic of Cancer" was not obscene because of its "redeeming social value."

Rosset said literary merit was always his primary reason for publishing a book. But he conceded that he also relished the chance to assert the Constitution's guarantee of freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

"I feel that if people don't have the right to express themselves, first of all, they are not going to be happy, and secondly, they aren't going to develop the creative abilities they have, as scientists, as bankers, as anything," Rossett said in a 2009 interview with VOA.

According to Neil Ortenberg, co-director of a documentary about Rosset's life called "Obscene," Rosset's tenacity and his extraordinary eye for artistic talent made him one of the most important American publishers ever.

"Publishing has always been considered a gentlemanly thing. That was just not Barney. Barney was a street fighter," Ortenberg said. "Also, I don't think Barney purposely set out to transform the country. What angered Barney was the hypocrisy in America that came out of the 1950s, and he wanted to do whatever he could to bring that down, and he decided to pursue these fights to the bitter end."

Rosset himself traced his ability to fight hard against long odds back to his high school years.

"I was a cross-country runner. And I didn't get tired very easily," he said. "That was my whole thing; it was endurance. It was a similar kind of thing, actually [with publishing]. I believed in freedom of speech. It never entered my head to quit."

However controversial his legacy, Rosset ranks among America's most honored publishers. In 2008, the National Coalition Against Censorship recognized his efforts.

The National Book Foundation gave him its Literarian Award for outstanding service to American letters, calling him "a tenacious champion for writers who were struggling to be read in America."

You May Like

Changing Under Pressure, IS ‘Potent’ as Ever

US intel officials describe Ramadi's fall as concerning, but say it isn't emblematic of larger effort to degrade IS capabilities More

Nigeria Fuel Shortage Shows Fragility of Africa’s Oil Giant

Although it is the largest oil producer in Africa, country has nearly ran out of fuel it needs to power its generators, cars and airplanes over the past week More

Arrested Football Officials Come Mainly From the Americas

US Justice Department alleges defendants participated in 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption of international soccer More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Cari
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
May 27, 2015 9:31 PM
Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs