John Martin published works by luminaries like Robert Duncan, Theodore Dreiser, Joyce Carol Oates, and D.H. Lawrence, but he will always be known as the founder of Black Sparrow Press. The publishing company he founded in 1966 published the bulk of Charles Bukowski’s work, republished John Fante’s brilliant 1939 novel Ask the Dust, and put some of Paul Bowles’ work back into print. Black Sparrow sold the rights to publish those three authors to HarperCollins in 2002, right around the time Martin retired and sold the remainder of his inventory for one dollar to David R. Godine. Renamed Black Sparrow Books, the imprint continues to this day, but it is not the same company it was under Martin, who originally financed the press by selling his large collection of rare first edition books.
Martin had a singular vision to publish certain types of literature that other publishers wouldn’t touch, and accordingly gave Black Sparrow titles a unique and beautiful uniform look that is still recognizable to this day. Overseen by Barbara Martin, who took care of the title page and cover designs, the Black Sparrow covers are certainly artistic enough to merit space on a gallery wall. Aside from the Germano Facetti era of Penguin, there is no one single 20th-century publishing that had such a keen eye for aesthetics.
So today, we’re celebrating what would have been 93rd birthday of the author who made the publishing house famous (and vice versa), Charles Bukowski, we present to you some of the best examples of the Black Sparrow Press aesthetic.
Post Office, Charles Bukowski