I was deeply saddened this week to learn of Barney Rosset’s death. This “most dangerous man in publishing” probably made a huge difference in your reading life, whether you know it or not. Here is what he meant to me:
I guess I was about thirteen when, in the storage shed behind our house among my father’s moldy piles of Crawdaddy and Bilboard and MAD Magazine, I came across a few issues of Evergreen Review. I don’t remember exactly what I read in those pages, and most of it I probably only pretended to get, but I do remember thinking: I want to be the sort of person who reads this sort of thing. In college, while writing a research paper on censorship, I rediscovered Evergreen Review and Barney Rosset. By then, I had read D.H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, Nabokov and most of the beats (these from my mother’s piles), and I was being introduced to Beckett, Stoppard and Pinter—I was a theatre major after all. I learned that for all of these, I had Barney Rosset to thank.
At 39, I wrote my first short story—about eighteen months ago. Well, that’s when I finished it. Writing it had taken me many months—stealing time at home during kids’ naps, or in waiting rooms typing entire paragraphs on the tiny keyboard of my blackberry, or scribbling on a legal pad in the grocery store parking lot à la Jill McCorkle. When the story was done, someone told me the next step was to submit it. Okay, whatever that means. So—before googling “short story magazines” and randomly selecting a few of them, based on the criteria that the name sounded cool and that they took electronic submissions (the effort of a bunch of printing and post-officing would mean that I was taking this seriously, but if all I did was push a couple of buttons, it could still be considered a whim, therefore rejection would be less painful)—yes, before I did that, I googled Evergreen Review and was surprised to find that the risk-taking, rule-breaking Mr. Rosset was still at it. So I took a little risk of my own. I pushed the buttons and sent my story through the interwebs to this icon of quality counterculture. What the hell, right? And—lo and behold—they took it.
On the phone with Aliya Tyus-Barnwell, the managing editor, I was beside myself, “You mean THE Barney Rosset himself actually read my story?”
“Of course,” she said, “he read it, and he wants us to publish it.”
Last January Evergreen Review published Sidewalk, my first story—and thereby gave me permission to take this seriously. Without that validation, I may not have had the confidence to keep writing. As it is, I can’t seem to stop. Thank you, Barney Rosset, for everything, and may light perpetual shine upon you.
In addition to Evergreen Review, A.K. Benninghofen’s stories have appeared in Connotation Press and Necessary Fiction.
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