The Publisher That Brought Us Sontag and Burroughs Returns

evergreen_bookOne of the most influential and essential American literary publications will return to readers after a long hiatus. Today it was announced that Evergreen Review, the longtime project of storied editor and publisher Barney Rosset (who passed away in 2012), will return in a partnership with the independent publisher OR Books. The joint venture will bring Evergreen’s properties — including titles by Samuel Beckett and Marguerite Duras — under the management of OR’s innovative direct-to-consumer publishing model.

Evergreen began in 1957 as a quarterly distributed in the form of trade paperbacks. Its first issue, a harbinger of what would follow for two decades, featured Jean-Paul Sartre, Samuel Beckett, and an interview with Jazz drummer Baby Dodds. The second issue showcased a pre-On the Road Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Gary Snyder, among many others.

The Review would go on to become the premier publisher of countercultural literature in the United States. Among the epic catalog of writers it launched or helped establish: Susan Sontag, Jean Genet, Ocatavio Paz, Robert Coover, Frank O’Hara, Amiri Baraka, and William S. Burroughs, whose Naked Lunch was first excerpted in its pages.

Music, politics, sex, and art were also widely represented by Evergreen. Gerald Ford famously maligned the magazine on the floor of Congress for printing the likeness of Richard Nixon next to a nude photo. And the Review’s offices were bombed in 1968, after issue #51’s cover, which featured a portrait of Che Guevara, infuriated anti-Castro Cubans.

OR also announced today that it will publish Barney Rosset’s autobiography, The Subject Is Left Handed, in winter of 2016. Rosset, born in Chicago, is remembered as one of the most active and important editors and publishers in the history of American letters. He is perhaps most famous for publishing the uncensored versions of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Tropic of Cancer. Both publications led to protracted legal battles that placed obscenity and censorship at the center of literary discourse.

Speaking of Rosset, under whom he began his career at Grove Press in 1987, OR co-founder John Oakes said, “Barney was in the business of upsetting traditional models, whether they were political, cultural, or social, and so are we. It’s an honor to be associated with the Rosset line.”

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According to Oakes, too, the Review will return in six months after a revamping. “The [Review] itself will be an invigorated and essential website, with the traditional Evergreen focus on written culture (from games to poetry) — all with a distinctly progressive, even radical, tinge,” Oakes told Flavorwire. “We really mean to honor and further the Evergreen tradition of shaking it up.”

The book wing of Evergreen, Foxrock, will also be reissued in some form. And as for the legendary Evergreen back catalog? “[We] will digitize and mine the drop-dead fabulous Evergreen archive,” said Oakes. “I’m thinking of something like ‘Evergreen one-shots’ — imagine a pairing of, say, Ho Chi Minh and Henry Miller, or Beckett and Camus (all Evergreen contributors).”

It’s difficult to dream up a better vehicle for Evergreen’s continuation than OR Books. Over the last five years, Oakes and co-founder Colin Robinson have turned OR into one of the most original publishers in the US. Under its direct-to-consumer model, which combines e-books with print-on-demand releases, it has built a variegated catalogue of fiction and nonfiction, one that includes books by Julian Assange, Eileen Myles, Patrick Cockburn, and Yoko Ono.

“I can think of no better partner than OR,” said Astrid Myers Rosset, Rosset’s widow and a member of Evergreen’s board, in a press release. “I like to imagine Barney would welcome Evergreen’s evolution, and of course its resurrection.”