Barney Rosset and Grove Press

Barney Rosset.  Photo courtesy of the New Yorker.

Barney Rosset. Photo courtesy of the New Yorker.

Greenwich Village has long been associated with the arts and countercultural movements. Former publishing house Grove Press in particular exemplifies this history.  Founded in 1947 and named for its location on Grove Street in Greenwich Village, Grove Press rose to prominence after it was purchased by Barney Rosset Jr. in 1951.  Though the original location is not known, Grove Press was mainly operated after the purchase from Rosset’s brownstone at 59 W. 9th Street, and during its time moved to 795 Broadway, 64 University Place, 80 University Place, 52 E. 11th Street, 214 Mercer Street, 11th Street again, and finally 196 W. Houston Street.  Rosset turned Grove press into one of the most influential publishers in the 50s-70s, but more importantly openly and actively fought against the censorship that marred literary expression during that time.  In addition to publishing most of the works of the beat poets, Grove rose to notoriety in 1959 by publishing the then-banned D.H. Lawrence novel “Lady Chatterly’s Lover.”  After the release of that book, the U.S. Post Office Department confiscated any copy sent through the mail, which prompted Grove Press to take legal actions that resulted in a ruling in his favor. 

Emboldened by that decision, Rosset then moved on to his most controversial and subsequently influential decision, publishing of Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer.”  Released in 1934, Tropic of Cancer was banned in the United States due to its explicit sexual content.  Rosset and Grove published it in 1961, and lawsuits were immediately filed against him and booksellers that chose to carry the controversial novel.  The trial eventually went all the way to the Supreme Court, where the case, known as Miller v. California, eventually became a landmark ruling, changing the view on how books and other literary works were defined as obscene and freeing many publishers and booksellers from the potential for prosecution.

 The Beats Allen Ginsberg, foreground, and Gregory Corso, center, with Mr. Rosset in Washington Square Park in 1957.  Photo courtesy of the New York Times.

The Beats Allen Ginsberg, foreground, and Gregory Corso, center, with Mr. Rosset in Washington Square Park in 1957. Photo courtesy of Burt Glinn/Magnum Photos.

 

In addition to books of a sexual nature, Grove also drew controversy by publishing charged political memoirs, including Malcolm X’s autobiography and Che Guevara’s “The Bolivian Diaries.”  The publishing of the latter proved to be violently controversial; a fragmentation grenade was thrown through the second story window of the office on July 26, 1968 in reaction to it.  Thankfully no one was present in the office at that time.  Rosset ended up selling Grove in 1986, and in 1993 it merged with Atlantic Monthly Press to form Grove Atlantic.  Rosset himself passed away on February 21, 2012.

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