Barney Rosset, The Art of Publishing

We prepared very carefully. We decided the best thing to do was send the book through the mail so it would be seized by the post office. We thought this would be the best way to defend the book. The post office is a federal government agency, and if they arrest you, you go to the federal court. That way you don’t have to defend the book in some small town. If we won against the post office, then the federal government was declaring that this book was not objectionable. That was the idea, and it worked out in exactly that way. The post office has its own special court, where the judge and the prosecutor are the same man. We brought in all these famous writers. Malcolm Cowley was a witness. He was particularly good because he was deaf and couldn’t hear the questions of the prosecutor—so he gave a lecture.

.. The judge, if you could call him that, ruled against us. We lost. Even so, I felt a great wave of sympathy coming from him, the way he stated things and the fact that he let us put all this evidence into the record. Getting things into the record was really important, because the judge who rules on the appeal only looks at what’s in the record. No new evidence is allowed.

.. In Brooklyn they came after me, the publisher, and charged me with conspiracy. They claimed that Henry Miller and I conspired to have him writeTropic of Cancer—that I commissioned him to write it in Brooklyn in 1933! That was a mistake, right? I would have been ten years old, and anyway he wrote the book in Paris. It was insane.

.. Now people come to Paris to buy the book, and they bring it back, and each book that gets into the United States is read by fifty people. What happens if you publish it and we actually win the case? In five years they’ll assign it in college courses and no one will want to read it!

.. His wife told me, When he gets here he’s not going to be friendly about this. I think you should publish it, but I will pretend I’m against it, because anything I say, he disagrees with me.

.. Science fiction or wandering between the centuries never appealed to me. But I tell you, if I knew how it was going to sell, I would have bought it. And if I knew how Tolkien, who was offered to me, was going to sell, you better believe I’d have published it. But I couldn’t understand a word of it. I mean, I didn’t object to it. It wasn’t like it was a fascist tract.

.. We were forewarned that Genet was a kleptomaniac. That night Loly was wearing very lovely earrings. We ate at a restaurant at the top of Montmartre, and Genet took us to the window. He said, Can you see the view, and all the things going on down there? The whole time Loly has her hands over her ears because Genet was trying to get the earrings off! But not a word was spoken about it. Jean Genet was a thief, but he was a real thief. He was a thief from the inside out. Like Sartre said, he was a saintly thief.

.. Do you think that it’s possible for a young publisher to do something like Grove again today?


In terms of editorial judgment, yes. If you had enough money. I told a friend the other night that if you want to be a publisher, you should inherit a lot of money. If you don’t inherit it, then you should marry a very rich girl. Preferably both! If you don’t have either, forget it. That’s the history of good American publishing.