We Met Beckett at the Bar

by Barney Rosset


In this excerpt from the collection of correspondence and ephemera Dear Mr. Beckett: Letters from the Publisher, Grove Press's infamous and revolutionary Barney Rosset describes the first time he met the future Nobel Prize-winning writer Samuel Beckett.


It was probably Sylvia Beach who first seriously talked to me about Samuel Beckett, in New York, in 1953. As the proprietor of Shakespeare and Co., the leading English-language bookstore for many years in Paris and close friend and publisher of James Joyce, she had known Sam Beckett for many years. She recommended him to me in the warmest terms as a coming writer of importance. When I asked Wallace Fowlie, who had been my professor at The New School in New York, to read Beckett and give me his opinion, he confirmed what Sylvia Beach had told me, and what I also felt myself. And so we got our most important author, and shortly after that my then wife Loly and I went to Paris for the first of many meetings with Sam.

We met Beckett at the bar of the Pont Royal Hotel on the Rue Montalembert almost next door to France’s largest literary publisher, Gallimard. Beckett came in, tall, trench-coated and taciturn, on his way to another date, he told us. He said that he had only time for one quick one. “He arrived late,” Loly remembered. “He looked most uncomfortable and never said a word except that he had to leave. I was pained by his shyness, which matched Barney’s and, in desperation, I told him how much I had enjoyed reading Godot.” At that, we clicked, and he became warm and fun. We went to dinner and to various bars, ending up at his old hangout, La Coupole, on the Boulevard Montparnasse at three in the morning with Beckett ordering champagne. Beckett wrote me a year later: “It’s hard to go on with everything loathed and repudiated as soon as formulated, and in the act of formulation, and before formulation…I’m horribly tired and stupefied, but not yet tired and stupefied enough. To write is impossible, but not yet impossible enough.”





Excerpted from the book DEAR MRBECKETT; Letters from the PublisherThe Samuel Beckett File, by Barney Rosset. Copyright © 2017 by the Estate of Barney Rosset. Reprinted with permission of Opus.




Barney Rosset defended personal freedom of the written word at great personal risk (he was arrested numerous times) and redefined American's puritanical literary parameters. Together with Beckett, his name is forever linked with his authors who include William S. Burroughs, Malcolm X, Henry Miller, Jean Genet, Harold Pinter, and D.H. Lawrence.





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