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

Captured IS Militants Explain Why They Fought

Fighters from Turkey, Syria tell VOA Kurdish Service what drew them to extremism, jihad More

Security Experts Split on Kenyan Barrier Wall

Experts divided on whether initiative aiming to keep out al-Shabab militants is long-awaited solution or misguided effort More

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Officials say they hope to turn Manila into the next Macau, which has long been Asia’s gambling hub 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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More