Barney Rosset was the force behind the legendary publishing house, but Roy Kuhlman contributed strongly to its renown with his innovative book covers.
|The legacy of Grove Press is well known
within literary circles - how Barney Rosset bought a fledgling but failing
publishing company in the early 1950s and changed the world of letters
in America, and perhaps the very culture as well; how during the early
years of post-World War II disillusionment and materialism - the era of
the gray-flannel suit and suburban expansion, the Korean conflict, and
the rise of McCarthyism - Grove Press brought to national prominence the
writers, art, and artists of the avant-garde. Grove offered many readers
their first introduction to the European dramatists of the Absurd, the
French Surrealists, the San Francisco and New York "Beat" poets, and the
New York Abstract Expressionists. Such groundbreaking works as Waiting
for Godot by Samuel Beckett, Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert
Selby and Naked Lunch by William Burroughs represented a literary
vanguard. Grove went on to champion African American, ethnic, and Third
World literature, the politics of the New Left, while at the same time
fighting some of the earliest and most important anti-censorship battles,
setting legal precedents that still stand today.
All but forgotten is the concurrent history of design at Grove Press. Equally innovative, and ultimately almost as influential, Grove Press book covers reflected not only the work inside, but also the prevailing zeitgeist. The iconoclastic writing was echoed in the packaging, a marriage of imagery and the written word that had not been seen before, or, perhaps, since.
Rosset became famous as an intrepid trail-blazer who brought banned and avant-garde literature to a deprived American public. Guided by his quixotic spirit, and by such talented editors as Fred Jordan, Richard Seaver, Donald Allen, and later Kent Carroll and John Oakes, Grove Press established itself as a force in publishing. The covers, the work of a young artist named Roy Kuhlman, who arrived on Grove's doorstep in 1951, contributed notably to the company's image as a distinguished and innovative publishing house.