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

Ferguson Grand Jury Decision Unlikely Before Monday

Tension builds over possible indictment of white police officer in shooting death of black teen More

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

President Poroshenko compares Soviet-era ‘genocide’ to current Russian-backed rebels’ fight in east More

S. Philippines Convictions Elusive 5 Years After Election-related Killings

Officials vowed to deliver justice as the nation marked the anniversary of the country's worst political massacre that left 58 dead, more than half media 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.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid