John Martin (publisher)

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John Martin (born 1930) is an American publisher who founded Black Sparrow Press. As a publisher, he is best known for his work with Charles Bukowski, John Fante and Paul Bowles. He is based in Santa Rosa, California.

Martin built a successful office supply business in Los Angeles in the 1960s.[1] He had been a book collector since the age of 20, eventually amassing a collection of D. H. Lawrence first editions, which he sold to UC Santa Barbara for $50,000 to fund the founding of Black Sparrow Press.[2][1]

Work with Charles Bukowski[edit]

Martin considered Bukowski “the new Walt Whitman” and founded Black Sparrow Press explicitly to publish Bukowski’s work.[3]

At the time, Bukowski was mostly publishing small chapbooks in small editions.[3] Martin’s office supply business gave him access to a printing press,[1] and his first publication under the Black Sparrow imprint was a 1966 Bukowski broadside for the poem “True Story,” which was printed in an edition of 30.[2]

In 1969, Martin offered Bukowski a $100 per month salary to quit his job and write full-time, which Bukowski accepted.[4] In 1971, Martin suggested a novel would be easier to sell than a collection of poems; a month later, Bukowski submitted his first novel, Post Office.[3] Martin was frequently referenced as a character in Bukowski’s work, including appearing as the character John Barton in the author's final novel, Pulp.[5]

Among others, Abel Debritto's research (featured by PBS in November 2017) and Michael Phillips' self-published blog (of June 2013) have alleged that Martin made substantial deleterious edits to his posthumous publications of Bukowski poetry.[6][7] The controversy has received media attention.[6][8][9][10]

Work with other authors[edit]

In his career, Martin was known as a champion of underground or avant-garde literature.[11] Under Martin’s watch, Black Sparrow went on to publish works by many prominent literary figures such as Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov, Robert Creeley, Diane Wakoski, David Bromige, Joyce Carol Oates, John Ashbery, Wanda Coleman, Charles Reznikoff, Kenneth Koch and Ed Sanders.[3][2][12]

Black Sparrow’s books were known for several unique design features, which Martin adopted to make his books noticeable on bookshelves.[13] He made his books 6 inches by 9 inches, which was larger-than-standard at the time; he also used textured matte paper letterpress printing.[13] Most of the covers were designed by Martin’s wife, Barbara.[13][14]

Sale of Black Sparrow[edit]

Aside from Bukowski, the publisher’s two best-selling authors were Paul Bowles and John Fante. In 2002, HarperCollins imprint Ecco Press purchased the rights to Black Sparrow’s authors Bukowski, Bowles and Fante for just under two-million dollars; the rest of Black Sparrow’s backlist was sold to Boston-based publisher David R. Godine for $1.[15] This sale price included all of Black Sparrow’s remaining inventory, in order to continue providing royalty income to the publisher’s authors.[11]


  1. ^ a b c "Black Sparrow Press shuts its doors / Indie publisher sells Bukowski, Fante and Bowles titles to HarperCollins". Retrieved 16 December 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c "Metroactive Books - Black Sparrow Press". Retrieved 16 December 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c d "'I Never Saw Him Drunk': An Interview with Bukowski's Longtime Publisher - VICE - United States". 20 June 2014. Retrieved 16 December 2016. 
  4. ^ "An Introduction to Charles Bukowski, by Jay Dougherty". Retrieved 16 December 2016. 
  5. ^ "Death Comes for the Detective". Retrieved 10 November 2017. 
  6. ^ a b "Bukowski's poems were mangled by editors after his death. Now you can read his originals". PBS NewsHour. Retrieved 10 November 2017. 
  7. ^ "The senseless, tragic rape of Charles Bukowski's ghost by John Martin's Black Sparrow Press - mjp Books". 18 June 2013. Retrieved 16 December 2016. 
  8. ^ Alexander Adams (7 September 2015). "Changes to Posthumously Published Poems by Charles Bukowski". Retrieved 16 December 2016. 
  9. ^ "Charles Bukowski: distortion of a dissident poet?". Retrieved 16 December 2016. 
  10. ^ "On Writing by Charles Bukowski". Retrieved 16 December 2016. 
  11. ^ a b "Black Sparrow Folds Its Wings - Poets and Writers". Retrieved 16 December 2016. 
  12. ^ "BPSC Library". Retrieved 16 December 2016. 
  13. ^ a b c Kushins, Jordan. "The Iconic, Legendary Designs of Black Sparrow Press Books". Retrieved 16 December 2016. 
  14. ^ "Celebrate Charles Bukowski's Birthday With Iconic Black Sparrow Press Book Covers". 16 August 2013. Retrieved 16 December 2016. 
  15. ^ RUTTEN, TIM (21 August 2002). "Plot in the Black Sparrow Saga Takes Unexpected Turn". Retrieved 16 December 2016 – via LA Times.