John Calder

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John Mackenzie Calder (born 25 January 1927)[1] is a Canadian and Scottish publisher who founded Calder Publishing in 1949.


John Calder was a friend of Samuel Beckett, becoming the main publisher of his prose-texts in Britain after the success of Waiting for Godot on the London stage in 1955–56.[citation needed] During the 1950s, Calder published the translated work of Anton Chekhov, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Goethe and Zola, including most of the work of April FitzLyon, and was the first publisher to make William S. Burroughs available in the United Kingdom.[citation needed]

From 1963 to 1975, Calder was in partnership with Marion Boyars, and the company was known as Calder and Boyars.[citation needed] The championing of freedom of speech led to Calder's involvement in a number of prosecutions for obscenity, including one in 1966 for publishing Hubert Selby Jr's Last Exit to Brooklyn. While the initial trial resulted in a guilty verdict, the case was won on appeal, and effectively ended literary censorship in Britain.[2]

The last novelist to be signed to Calder by John Calder personally was Carole Morin whose "Penniless in Park Lane"[3] he published in 2001.

The imprint continues to publish Howard Barker, Tim Waterstone, and other figures of literature both past and present. In 2002, John Calder opened The Calder Bookshop Theatre at 51 The Cut, Waterloo, London.[4] To celebrate his fifty years in publishing, the arts and politics a festschrift [5] was produced. During 2006, Lou MacLoughlan and Louise Milne produced the documentary John Calder: A Life in Publishing commemorating his life.[citation needed]

In April 2007, Calder sold his business to independent publishers Alma Books/Oneworld Classics; the imprint retained his name,[6] while the rights to the non-theatrical work of Beckett were acquired by Faber.

Calder was also responsible. along with Sonia Orwell and Jim Haynes, for devising and co-creating an International Writers' Conference held at the Edinburgh International Festival in 1962 and then a Drama Conference in 1963. These innovative events, intended to draw together writers from all over the world, were arguably a forerunner of the Edinburgh Book Festival, which was not founded for another twenty years. The experience of this first conference was revisited at a Book Festival discussion during the 2012 Edinburgh International Festival.[7]

John Calder has also led a hectic life outside publishing.[8] He was a major investor in the Partisan Coffee House, a radical New Left venue in Soho.[9] In 1970, he stood for election as a Scottish Liberal Party candidate for Kinross and Western Perthshire, finishing 4th.[citation needed]

However, he is otherwise mainly known for his interests in the arts in general and his passion for opera in particular.[citation needed] In 1963 he founded and ran for some ten years Ledlanet Nights, a general festival of the arts, held in the hall of his then home, a baronial house at Ledlanet near Milnathort.[citation needed]

As his publishing activity lessened, Calder has developed his own writing.[citation needed] He published his autobiography, Pursuit: the Uncensored Memoirs of John Calder,[10] in 2001, and various other works related to Beckett.[11] He still writes poetry and is currently[when?] working on a biography.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Calder was married to Christya Myling from 1954 to 1961. They have a daughter named Jamie (b. 1954). Calder and Bettina Jonic were married in 1961. That lasted until 1975, and produced another daughter, Anastasia (b. 1963).[12]


  1. ^ O'Mahony, John (20 July 2002). "The Profile: John Calder". The Guardian. London. 
  2. ^ Hodgkinson, Will (2004-10-16). "Culture quake: Last Exit to Brooklyn". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2018-03-06. 
  3. ^ Morin, Carole (2001). Penniless in Park Lane. London: John Calder Publishers. p. 143. ISBN 0-7145-4314-4. 
  4. ^ - The Calder Bookshop Theatre
  5. ^ "In Defence of Literature: for John Calder - Fifty years of publishing literature, politics and the arts". Mosaic Press. Retrieved 24 April 2011. 
  6. ^ Joel Rickett, "The bookseller", The Guardian, 21 April 2007. Retrieved on 1 July 2007.
  7. ^ Bartie, Angela and Bell, Eleanor (2012), The International Writers' Conference Revisited: Edinburgh 1962, Cargo Publishing.
  8. ^ O'Mahoney, John (19 July 2002). "Publishing's one-man band". The Guardian. 
  9. ^ Bishopsgate Institute Podcast: The Partisan Coffee House: Cultural Politics and the New Left. Mike Berlin, 11 June 2009
  10. ^ Calder, John (2001). Pursuit: the Uncensored Memoirs of John Calder. London: John Calder Publishers. p. 619. ISBN 0-7145-4313-6. 
  11. ^ Calder, John (2002). the Philosophy of Samuel Beckett. Calder Publications Ltd. ISBN 978-0-7145-4283-6. 
  12. ^ O'Mahony, John (20 July 2002). "The Profile: John Calder". The Guardian. London. 

External links[edit]

  • Calder Publications - archived version of website as it was on 23 May 2002.
  • Calder and Boyars Manuscripts - Lilly Library Manuscript Collections, Indiana University
  • Louise Jury, "Publish and be damned: A defender of free speech" - a profile of John Calder, The Independent on Sunday, 21 March 2007.
  • Tom Tivnan, "I am Legend", a feature on John Calder on his sixtieth anniversary in publishing, The Bookseller, 30 January 2009.