Originally published in the retrospective volume, Evergreen Review Reader 1967-1973 (published by Four Walls Eight Windows in December, 1998), this essay also appeared in The Evergreen Review Issue 100 in 1998.
In 1957, we published the first issue of Evergreen Review.
It was a natural outgrowth of Grove Press and turned out to be one of the most daring magazines, both politically and culturally, of its time. It was in the pages of the Evergreen Review that the writers appeared whose books Grove would later publish and use as battering rams to storm the ramparts of literary censorship. For those who did not live through those times, it must be difficult to grasp how heavily the threat of censorship hung over America's authors and publishers. Grove and Evergreen, with D. H. Lawrence's "Lady Chatterley's Lover", Henry Miller's "Tropic of Cancer", and the Swedish film, "I am Curious (Yellow)", were leaders in the fight against it; particularly as it suppressed the candid, explicit and creative portrayal of sex and sexual politics.
For us at Evergreen and Grove, the most important recognition of what we tried to do came from our peers, America's writers. In 1988, PEN awarded their biennial Publisher's Citation.
"For distinctive and continuous service to international letters, to the freedom and dignity of artists, and for the free transmission of the printed word across the barriers of poverty, ignorance, censorship and repression."
I was the award's nominal recipient, but it was really for the achievements of a team. A team in which I was only one member; at most, the first among equals. A common spirit united my co-editors, Fred Jordan and Richard Seaver along with all the other editors who shared in it. It was this spirit that was brought to life and made manifest in the writings of the authors we published. When asked about our philosophy at Evergreen and Grove, my answer was: read what we published. We may best be measured by the tact that what we published was who we were.
For instance, Don Allen, co-editor with Fred Jordan and me of Evergreen's first issues, played a vital editorial role in assembling the now legendary second issue of Evergreen, the one to which we gave the name, "San Francisco Scene". In it were Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure and others who came to be known as the voices of the "beat generation". All relatively unknown at the time, they would prove to have a natural and enduring affinity for Evergreen and Grove. They can all be found in this Evergreen Reader, including McClure's play, "The Beard" which, closed and banned by the authorities in San Francisco, resurfaced as the inaugural production when our Evergreen Theater opened in New York.
Fred Jordan was a mainstay of Grove and Evergreen's editorial team almost from the very beginning. Already at Grove by the time Evergreen began publication, he remained right through to the 98th and last issue. Fred was also sole editor for the issue of Evergreen devoted entirely to a new generation of German writers like Gunter Grass, Uwe Johnson and Heinrich Boll.
Richard Seaver's name first appeared on the masthead of Evergreen Review #9. We had met in Paris in 1953, where we immediately discovered a mutual belief in the genius of Samuel Beckett. His work was not only published fifteen times in Evergreen, he is the only one to appear in both its first and last issues.
This Reader also contains John Schultz's, "Pigs, Prague, Chicago, Other Democrats and the Sleeper in the Park", his account of the police savagery at the Democratic Convention in the summer of 1968. Dick Seaver virtually embodied our position at that crucial point in the politically and social history of the country as he marched hand in hand through Chicago's embattled Grant Park with Jean Genet, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. Mary Ellen Marks' photograph of them, reprinted here, captured that moment with the eloquence I believe it deserves.
So, at Grove and Evergreen, content was not diluted by some impersonal committee. Individual initiative, combined with collective responsibility, prevailed. Editors like Harry Braverman, who took over "The Autobiography of Malcolm X", and Kent Carroll, sole editor of the Evergreen issue devoted to the Bernardo Bertolucci / Marlon Brando picture, "Last Tango in Paris", both of which are excerpted here, were involved in all the processes of orchestrating the work in which they believed.
Roy Kuhlman, the brilliant and iconoclastic art director, whose abstract expressionist covers for Grove had, from the very first, struck a responsive chord, were also to give Evergreen its unique look. Roy Kuhlman first appeared on the masthead in the somewhat notorious Evergreen Review #32, April - May 1964. This was the issue that the fittingly named Hicksville, Long Island, Police Department thought they could confiscate as obscene. The court would rule otherwise.
Just as the individual voices of our editors remained intact, the individuality of the creators, the writers and artists, was also prized and nourished, not feared and eviscerated, as it so often is by editors at conglomerate-controlled publishing firms. Writers like William Burroughs, John Rechy, Hubert Selby Jr. and Alexander Trocchi, along with other cutting-edge authors from all over the world, electrified the pages of Evergreen. Their relentless assault on established values and official truths helped create the counterculture that took root in the sixties.
It was a sign of those times that, although Evergreen's modus operandi was very much in tune with the dissenting tenor of the voices we published, the magazine's circulation soared to an amazing peak of 150,000.
A fragmentation grenade hurled early one morning into the empty University Place offices of Grove / Evergreen provided an unsettling reminder that some of our enemies preferred different means of dissent. A band of anti-Castro Cubans left over from the Bay of Pigs soon claimed responsibility for it. Not so surprising, since one month earlier, Fred Jordan and I had flown to Bolivia in an attempt to secure the diaries of Che Guevara. We couldn't get the complete diaries, but we were able to publish portions in Evergreen and they now appear here. The bombing was another, if somewhat more dramatic, response to Evergreen's outspoken and activist voice.
If there were any doubts at the time that Grove, Evergreen, and the principle of free speech were always under assault, they had to be dispelled by the release, five years later, of the Rockefeller Commission report revealing that Grove Press had been for a number of years the only American publishing company targeted in the CIA illegal "domestic activities". It would seem that Grove's authors had often depicted with more historical accuracy than they might have immediately realized, the dark and surreal side of the American Dream.
They were prophets when Evergreen first published them and their apocalyptic vision remains as pertinent today as ever.
William S. Burroughs
John Forbes Kerry
Hubert Selby, Jr.