John Martin, the great collector of avant-garde books, visionary patron of Charles Bukowski, and founder, publisher, and for thirty-six years sole proprietor of Black Sparrow Press, once said:
"There have always been two streams in American literature. First, the 'insiders,' the ones who conform to accepted standards. Some of these insiders are very good writers . . . but their work is of interest only up to a point, [because] they completely satisfy readers' expectations of what literature should be. On the other hand, there has also been this second, parallel stream of 'outsiders'末mavericks, beginning with Walt Whitman. To my way of thinking, Leaves of Grass is the first great modern literary statement . . . and to this day, perhaps the greatest and most astounding."
From 1966 through 2002, Martin sought out the great and astounding statements of America's literary outsiders, writers whose kinship is with the red blood of Whitman not the blue blood of Longfellow, with the dirty hands of Dreiser not the kid gloves of Edith Wharton. Writers who, on the whole, have looked west, toward the frontier and its promise of wildness, and away from the east, away from "civilization" and its received ideas of excellence and form. And Martin found them末in little magazines, in collectors' libraries, and among that band of bards and truth-tellers who emerged from the jazz cellars of the 1950s into the Day-Glo orange sunshine of the 1960s and '70s.
The poet Robert Kelly has said that without Black Sparrow, much of the literature of the '60s would today exist only in memories末memories of the monologues of the post-Beat poets and the sweet smell of mimeographed chapbooks. The critic Neil Gordon, riffing on the same theme, said that Martin did nothing less than give permanence to the ephemeral, "providing the published texts of a generation of vital work that would otherwise have been lost"末lost to talk, lost to the browning of newsprint, lost to the crushing forces of the cultural mainstream.
John Martin retired from publishing on July 1, 2002, but his outsider literary legacy will endure. Bukowski lives末indeed he and a handful of his old Black Sparrow stablemates (Paul Bowles, John Fante, and Joyce Carol Oates especially) not only live but now thrive on the "inside": times change, and tastes change, and small presses like Martin's are powerful compact agents of change. Best of all, the published books themselves still live末and are now available from David R. Godine, Publisher.
On this Web site you will find, and be able to purchase, John Martin's Black Sparrow backlist, of which Godine is the exclusive licensed distributor. These are not reprints: they are the original publisher's editions, trucked direct from John Martin's former Santa Rosa warehouse to ours. Most of the books are hand-sewn, on creamy, heavy, acid-free paper, with distinctive cover and text designs by Barbara Martin. Most of the books, once they are sold out, will not be reprinted. Only a select few will be預nd they will be joined by judiciously selected new titles published under Godine's Black Sparrow Books imprint.
The Black Sparrow backlist is an American literary treasure that we intend to keep intact, available, and alive for many years to come. Here, for newcomers and long-term admirers alike, are the real goods, a flashing heaven of good books. Welcome to the Great Outside.
末David R. Godine