Melville House reports on “Strange Victories,” an exhibition constructed from the archives of crazy-innovative Grove Press — publishers of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Last Exit to Brooklyn, Naked Lunch, Tropic of Cancer, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Waiting for Godot, IV-F: A Guide to Draft Exemption, and the Evergreen Review; and distributor of films – at Syracuse University. Their work here might provide inspiration for us regarding how to find exhibition-worthy materials in the archives:
“Strange Victories,” which opened earlier this month, puts on display the varied and incredibly cool archives of Grove, which, during the period in question, was not only a publishing house, but also ran a magazine (TheEvergreen Review) and distributed films, including the sexually explicit Swedish hit “I Am Curious (Yellow),” in which—it’s really strange to remember—Martin Luther King, Jr.appeared, playing himself. It also, famously, published the vanguard in literary experimentation and fought a series of censorship trials.
Among the materials on display are correspondence between Rosset and the house’s authors, and lots of first editions: the Syracuse librarians made a short video about the exhibit, which pans over the copies of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Last Exit to Brooklyn, Naked Lunch, Tropic of Cancer, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Waiting for Godot, and books of the moment like IV-F: A Guide to Draft Exemption…
But perhaps especially interesting are the more ordinary materials, like royalty statements, stock certificates, cover mock-ups, ads, and other office fodder (except for a photo of Rosset and Samuel Beckett hugging—that’s just plain adorable). All publishing houses are the sum of decisions—good, bad, bold, off the wall—and it’s in these papers that you can see some of those decisions being made. They also demonstrate the personalities at work, and the house’s collective personality.