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History of Evergreen Review

THE EVERGREEN REVIEW was founded in 1957 by Barney Rosset, publisher of Grove Press as a quarterly in a trade paperback format, not so unlike other literary quarterlies. From the start, however, it did not fit easily in that company.

The first issue featured an essay by Jean-Paul Sartre and an interview with the great New Orleans jazz drummer Baby Dodds. It also included a story of Samuel Beckett's Dante and the Lobster, the first of his many appearances in Evergreen's pages; these continued through the last issue published.

The second issue was a landmark. A banner across the cover declared "San Francisco Scene," and inside held the first collection of work by the new Beat writers - including Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, Philip Whalen, Jack Kerouac (before the publication of On The Road and Allen Ginsberg, whose HOWL had already been published as a pamphlet by Ferlinghetti's press, City Lights, and was confiscated by customs officials and faced trial for obscenity in San Francisco. The issue brought the Beats and Evergreen Review to the forefront of the American stage. Subsequent issues presented some of the best and most provocative literary writing of the time; William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch was excerpted side by side with C. Wright Mills and a section from Paul Goodman's Growing Up Absurd; Edward Albee's first play, Zoo Story, appeared next to Camus' appeal against capital punishment; a portion of Jean Genet's Our Lady of the Flowers ran in the same number as an essay by Octavio Paz. LeRoi Jones (Amirari Baraka), John Rechy, Robert Coover, Frank O' Hara, Richard Brautigan, Hubert Selby, Jr., Kenneth Koch, and Terry Southern were among those who appeared regularly.

Evergreen published writing that was literally counter to the culture, and if it was sexy, so much the better. In the context of the time, sex was politics, and the powers-that-be made the suppression of sexuality a political issue. The court battles that Grove Press fought for the legal publication of Lady Chatterly's Lover, Tropic of Cancer, and Naked Lunch, and for the legal distribution of the film I Am Curious: Yellow, spilled onto the pages of Evergreen Review, and in 1964, an issue of Evergreen itself was confiscated in New York State by the Nassau County District Attorney on obscenity charges.



A grouping of Evergreen spines, img source: freebirdsbooks


As the fifties turned into the sixties, and the Beat Scene grew into the counterculture, Evergreen grew as well, always one step ahead of the pack. Timothy Leary, Abbie Hoffman, and the Fugs shared pages with Jack Kerouac, Mailer, Beckett, and Burroughs, and essays propounding psychedelic and Black Power appeared between cartoons by Tomi Ungerer, Kliban, and Sine. Michael O'Donoghue (later of National Lampoon and Saturday Night Live fame) became a regular contributor and created the classic commix satire Phoebe Zeit-Geist. Politics, sex, and art always went together. Then Hon. Gerald R. Ford denounced the magazine on the floor of Congress for printing a lampoon of Richard Nixon beside the photo of a nude. In 1968 Evergreen Review #51, featuring "The Spirit of Che" and with a Paul Davis portrait of Che Guevera on the cover so inflamed anti-Castro Cubans that they bombed Evergreen offices.

All of this was done on a shoestring budget by a tiny staff. Barney Rosset started the magazine with editor Don Allen and Fred Jordan, who was nominally the business manager in its early days. Richard Seaver joined the editorial team with the ninth issue, and Don Allen stepped back to become a contributing editor. Publication increased from quarterly to bimonthly to, in the ate sixties, monthly, and the format changed from trade paperback to a full-sized, glossy magazine attaining a subscription base of some 40, 000 copies and a newsstand circulation of 1000,000. The final issue, number 96, came out in 1973. Evergreen was more than another literary magazine. It was the voice of a movement that helped to change the attitudes and prejudices of the culture at large through the language of art - and succeeded. It was always damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead.

-Ken Jordan, August 1993
Excerpt from the introduction to EVERGREEN REVIEW READER, 1957-1996. Blue Moon Books and Arcade Publishing, 1994.


Evergreen Review debuted pivotal works by Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, Charles Bukowski, William Burroughs, Marguerite Duras, Jean Genet, Allen Ginsberg, Gunter Grass, Jack Kerouac, Norman Mailer, Henry Miller, Pablo Neruda, Vladimir Nabokov, Frank O’Hara, Kenzaburo Oe, Octavio Paz, Harold Pinter, Susan Sontag, Tom Stoppard, Derek Walcott and Malcolm X. United States Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas wrote a controversial piece for the magazine in 1969. Kerouac and Ginsberg regularly had their writing published in the magazine.

The original Evergreen Review ceased publication in 1973, but the magazine was revived in 1998 in an online edition edited by founder Barney Rosset and Astrid Rosset. The online edition features flashbacks to previous Evergreen Review editions, as well as debuts by contemporary writers such as Dennis Nurkse, Giannina Braschi, and Regina Dereiva.

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