Tributes paid to ‘visionary’ theatre founder John Calder

John Calder. Picture: Paul Cooker/Rex/Shutterstock
John Calder. Picture: Paul Cooker/Rex/Shutterstock
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Tributes have been paid to John Calder, the trailblazing co-founder of the Traverse theatre and publisher, who died on Monday.

The leading arts figure ­established the writers’ ­conference at the Edinburgh Festival and was the first ­British publisher of William S Burroughs. He was 91.

Over the course of ­several decades, Mr Calder left an inimitable mark on the British culture, championing ­voices including Henry Miller and Samuel Beckett, the latter of whom became a close friend.

However, it is as the 
co-founder of the Traverse alongside Jim Haynes and Richard Demarco that Mr ­Calder is perhaps best known in Scotland.

From its inauspicious beginnings in 1963 in an ­abandoned brothel in Edinburgh’s ­Lawnmarket, it blossomed into an internationally recognised venue that brought new ­writers to prominence.

In a statement, the Traverse said: “The entire Traverse team is deeply saddened to hear of the death of John Calder, one of our visionary founders. His contribution to culture, both in Scotland and beyond, was invaluable and will continue long into the future.

“We were delighted to ­celebrate John’s incredible creative legacy in a dedicated programme of events in 2014, and know that his dynamism and intellect will be missed throughout the world of ­theatre, as well as by those who were closest to him.

“We are all thinking of his family, friends and those who cared for him, and share in their sorrow at his passing.”

Mr Calder also founded ­Calder Publishing in 1949, now part of Alma Classics. After starting out publishing opera books, he met Beckett in 1955, and went on to publish his ­early novel, Murphy, ­Malloy and Malone Dies.

It would signal a lifelong appetite to showcase the work of bold literary voices, with Mr Calder going on to publish the likes of Henry Miller’s ­Tropic of Cancer, which had been rejected by every other publishing house, as well as works by Hubert Selby Jr and ­Alexander Trocchi.

Joyce McMillan, The ­Scotsman’s theatre critic and columnist, described Mr ­Calder as “peerless.”

She said: “His brilliant international drama list helped shape the Traverse’s early seasons. We shall not see his like again.”

The Samuel Beckett ­Society said: “The society is sad to learn of the death of ­British publisher John Calder, a strong supporter of Beckett’s writing and a close personal friend. Our thoughts are with his family during this difficult time.”