Tribute to Barney Rosset


John Calder


It was in the early fifties that Ken McCormick of Doubleday told me of a new publisher in New York who might be interested in the kind of publishing in which I was already engaged in London. I met Barney Rosset in his new office, and later in the early evening he phoned me to invite me to dinner. He then picked me up at the Gotham Hotel with his girlfriend, a pretty artist called Link, and we dined at the Coq d’Or nearby.

In a short time I had arranged to import his first Evergreen books and later Evergreen Reviews into Britain, including the first post-war edition of Samuel Beckett’s Murphy, and being interested in contemporary French literature, we were soon sharing translation costs of authors like Robbe-Grillet and Marguerite Duras. From him I acquired Alexander Trocchi and I sold him Aidan Higgins, and so it went on with a few ups and downs. When we both contracted the second two parts of Beckett’s Molloy trilogy, written in French, but could not get Molloy because Maruice Girodias of Olympia Press had the rights, I worked out a plan whereby the three of us would each bring out his own edition of the three by exchanging contracts.

My activities as literary organizer of writer’s conferences for the Edinburgh Festival, a new literary innovation for a festival specializing in music, drama and the plastic arts – led to William Burroughs and Henry Miller getting British recognition (Miller was already contracted to Barney thanks to Girodias), and in 1963 I contracted and then published Tropic of Cancer. Barney wanted to offset his legal expenses by co-publishing the British edition, but as he withheld the contract until after publication, he lost the opportunity. This led to a long war between us, lasting about a decade with no cooperation, especially over translations or exchanges of authors. But the quarrel was made up, although other events sometimes soured what was often a close relationship.

In personal terms we were usually friends and many long nights were spent together in the bars and late-night clubs of London, New York, Frankfurt, Paris and elsewhere. We shared adverse reactions to right-wing politics and causes and were most comfortable in bohemian society. Barney was a frustrated writer, whose life-style made concentration difficult as well as involving him ultimately in economic difficulties, but he was always nostalgic about his army days, and he remained very much a warrior whether his battlefield was publishing, involvement in film, causes or whatever other activities he took up. Above all he had unquenchable courage to defend what he believed in and no adversity could reduce it.