Tribute to Barney Rosset


Ira Silverberg


Of all the publishing houses in the world, the one where I always wanted to work was Grove Press. When Andrew Wylie called me one day in 1985 and told me, “Barney is about to get some money, so get down there,” I did. I was 22. Barney knew me from my work the year before making arrangements for the 70th birthday of William Burroughs, who Grove first published in the 1960s.

“What can you do?” Barney asked me in the living room of his West Village townhouse.

“I can do publicity,” I said.

“Okay, you’re the publicity director, so when can you start?”

That was Barney. If you believed in him he believed in you. He may have already peaked as a visionary editor by the time I got to work for him, having harnessed the power of Beckett, Genet, Burroughs, Robbe-Grillet and Duras to change the western canon, but he still knew what he wanted when it came to running a publishing house.

Writers, however, once they earned his legendary respect, had free reign in his world. They could do no wrong. I’ll never forget seeing the late great punk writer Kathy Acker come and go from his office. She’d appear, leather-clad, mohawked with piercings everywhere it was humanly possible. She walked into his office looking threatening and came out smiling and cooing like a baby.

“Oh my God, I love that man,” she said.

Dennis Cooper, at that time a very young and shy author of deeply transgressive and disturbing experimental fiction came out of Barney’s office looking like the happiest kid in New York.

“That is the coolest fucking man in the world,” he said.

After they’d gone, Barney would come out pleased, with a look of delight on his face – rare for such a tempestuous man. In a field often defined by conflict, he loved his writers and they loved him.