Henry Miller

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Henry Miller (1891-1980) lived in Big Sur between 1944 and 1962.

If you’ve read Miller, and perhaps some things about Miller, you know the incredibly rich life he lived, the millions of people he touched with his writing, the lasting friendships he had. Here in Big Sur, the place Miller found during his Air-Conditioned Nightmare search for a place to settle, we have a perfect place to build on, preserve and champion what Miller did.

There is a growing collection of material for anyone interested in the literature of this country and we invite people from all over the world to perform, write, sing and experience this place. Many of Miller’s old friends stop by the Library telling stories of Henry’s generosity, his inspiring spirit and what his work has meant to them. Those kinds of visits provide some of the highlights of being here.

This short biography, as written by Henry Miller, was published in “My Life and Times” in 1971.

1890s-1910s / 1920s / 1930s / 1940s / 1950s / 1960s / 1970s

1891: Born in the Yorksville section of Manhattan, New York, NY, December 26th of American parents of German ancestry.  Moved to Brooklyn in first year.

1892-1900: Lived in the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, known as the 14th Ward.hm_bio_photo3

1901: Moved to “the street of early sorrows” (Decatur Street) in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn.

1907: Met first love, Cora Seward, at Eastern District High School, Brooklyn.

1909: Entered City College of New York and left after two months — rebelled against educational methods.  Took job with Atlas Portland Cement Company, financial district, New York.  Began period of rigorous athletic discipline that lasted seven years.

1910: Began affair with first mistress, Pauline Chouteau of Phoebus, Virginia, a woman “old enough to be my mother”.

1913: Traveled through the West.  Worked as a ranch hand in effort to break away from city life.  Met Emma Goldman, the celebrated anarchist, in San Diego — “a turning point in my life”.

1914: Back in New York, worked with father in his tailor shop; tried to turn business over to the employees.  Met Frank Harris, “my first contract with a great writer.”

1917: Married Beatrice Sylvas Wickens of Brooklyn, a pianist.

1919: Daughter born, named Barbara Sylvas, now known as Barbara Sandford.

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1920:After working several months as a messenger, became employment manager of the messenger department, Western Union in New York.

1922: Wrote first book, Clipped Wings, during three weeks’ vacation from Western Union duties.

dfe017a1c7710bae1c58918992f992431923: Fell in love with June Edith Smith (left) while she worked in a Broadway dance palace.

1924: Left Western Union, determined never to take a job again, but to devote entire energy to writing. Divorced first wife and married June Smith.

1925: Began writing career in earnest, accompanied by great poverty.  Sold prose-poems, Mezzotints, from door to door.

1927: Opened a speak-easy in Greenwich Village with wife June.  While working Park Department, Queens, compiled notes for complete autobiographical cycle of novels in 24 hours. Exhibited watercolors in June Mansfield’s roman Tavern, Greenwich Village.

1928: Toured Europe for one year with June on money given to her by an admirer.

1929: Returned to New York where the novel This Gentile World was completed.

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1930: Returned to Europe alone, taking manuscript of another novel which was lost by Edward Titus, editor of This Quarter, Paris.  Left New York with ten dollars loaned by Emil Schnellock; intended to go to Spain but after staying in London a while when to Paris and remained there.tumblr_la7n5pkgmr1qzhl9eo1_500

1931-1932: Met Anais Nin, the writer, in Louveciennes. Began writing Tropic of Cancer while walking the streets and sleeping where possible. Worked as proof-reader on the Paris edition of the Chicago Tribune. Taught English at Lycee Carnot (Dijon) during the winter.

1933: Took apartment with Alfred Perles in Clichy and visited Luxembourg with him. The Black Spring period; great fertility, great joy.” June returned to Europe, but after a brief stay asked for a divorce and left.

1934: Moved to #18 Villa Seurat on the same day that Tropic of Cancer was published — a decisive moment.  The original manuscript, rewritten three times, was three times as long as the published work.  Divorced from June in Mexico City by proxy.

1935: Aller Retour New York published in October. Met Conrad McCormand, the astrologer. Began the “Hamlet correspondence” with Michael Fraenkel in November.  First edition of “Alf Letter” appeared in September. 

1936: Visited New York again from January to April. Practiced psychoanalysis. Began correspondence with Count Keyserling after reading his Travel Diary, Black Spring published in June.  

1937: Momentous meeting with Lawrence Durrell. Scenario published with illustration by Abe Rattner. Began publication of The Booster with Alfred Perles. Went to London during the winter for a few weeks to visit Perles.  Met W.T. Symons, T.S. Eliot and Dylan Thomas. 

1938: Began writing for French revue, Volontes, in January, the publication month of “Money and How It Gets That Way.” Second edition of Alf appeared in June; Max and the White Phagocytes published in September. 

tumblr_lskz53QoDj1qzkem4o1_4001939: Tropic of Capricorn published in February, and the Hamlet letters with Michael Fraenkel later in year. Left Villa Seurat in June for sabbatical year’s vacation.  End of a very important period of close association with Anais Nin, Alfred Perles, Michael Fraenkel, Hans Reichel, Abe Rattner, David Edgar, Conrad Moricand, Georges Pelorson, Henri Fluchere, et. al.  Toured southern France. 

Left for Athens on July 14, arriving at Durrell’s home in Corfu, Greece, in August. Back and forth to Athens several times, visited some of the islands, toured the Pelopponnessus. “High water mark in life’s adventures thus far.” Met George C. Katsimbalis (the Colossus), George Seferiades the poet, Ghika the painter, et. al. Source of regular income stopped with death of Paris publisher (Jack Kahane, the Obelisk Press), the day after war was declared. 

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1940: Returned to New York in February where Miller met Sherwood Anderson and John Dos Passos. Stayed with John and Flo Dudley at Caresse Crosby’s home in Bowling Green, VA during the summer. Wrote The Colossus of Maroussi, The World of Sex, Quiet Days in Clichy, and began The Rosy Crucifixion.

1941: Made tour of USA accompanied part of the way by Abraham Rattner, the painter, from October 20, 1940 until October 9, 1941. Met Dr. Marion Souchon, Weeks Hall, Swami Prabhavananda, Alfred Stieglitz, Ferdinand Leger and John Marin. Father died while Miller was in Mississippi; he returned to New York.

1942: Left for California in June. Continued with The Rosy Crucifixion (finished half of it) and with The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (finished about two-thirds). 

1943: Made two to three hundred water colors. Exhibited at Beverly Glen (The Green House), American Contemporary Gallery, Hollywood, with success. 

1944: Exhibited water colors at Santa Barbara Museum of Art and in London. Seventeen or more titles edited for publication in England and America. “Year of fulfillment and realization.” First “successful” year from material standpoint in whole life. Called to Brooklyn in October due to illness of mother. Visited Herbert F. West at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, and exhibited at Yale. Married Janina M. Lepska in Denver, Colorado, December 18, 1944.  

Moved to Big Sur, “my first real home in America.” Emil White arrived in May from Alaska to offer his services. Met Jean Page Wharton, who had a great influence on my thinking. bissinger-300x214

1945: Finished Sexus at Keith Evans’ cabin, Partington Ridge. Started translation, which was never finished, of Season in Hell. Daughter Valentine born November 19. Bezalel Schatz, Israeli painter, arrived December 26. 

1946: Moved to shack at Anderson Creek in January. Began work on Into the Night Life book with Schatz. Also began book about Rimbaud: The Time of the Assassins. Met Leon Shamroy who eventually bought over 30 of Miller’s water colors. Received news from Paris that 40,000 dollars had accumulated to his credit and which Miller “neglected to collect.” Jean Wharton offered Miller her home on Partington Ridge, “to pay for whenever we could.”

1947: Took possession of Wharton’s house on Ridge in February. Began writing Plexus. Into the Nightlife completed

1948: Wrote The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder. Son Tony born August 28. 

1949: Finished Plexus. Began writing The Books in My Life.

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1951: Separated from wife Janina Lepska; the children went to live with her in Los Angeles. Finished The Books in my Life.

1952: Eve McClure (below) arrived April 1 to live with Miller. Began writing Nexus. Divorced Janina Lepska. Left for tour of Europe with Eve on December 29. Arrived in Paris for New Year’s Eve. AKG463988

1953: Big year – “best since Clichy.” Invited to stay at home of Maurice Nadeau, former editor of Combat and chief organizer of the Defense of Henry Miller. Visited Rabelais’ house outside Chinon, then to Wells, England to see Perles and wife. Took in Shakespeare’s house at Stratford-on-Avon, with Schatzes. Flying visit to John Cowper Powys in Corwyn, Wales. Back to Paris. Returned to Big Sur at the end of August. Married Eve McClure in Carmel Highlands, chez Ephraim Doner, in December.

1954: Alfred Perles arrived in November to write My Friend Henry Miller. Traveling exhibition of water colors in Japan. Began writing Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch.

1955: “Barbara Sandford, daughter by first marriage came to see me; hadn’t seen her since 1925.” Perles left for London in May. Had visit from Buddhadeva Bose of Calcutta, Bengali poet. Wrote Reunion in Barcelona. 

1956: Left for Brooklyn in January with Eve “to take care of my mother who was dying.” While there met Ben Grauer of NBC and made recording Henry Miller Recalls and Reflects. Returned to Big Sur. Collection of short pieces translated and published in Hebrew – Hatzoth Vahtzi (Half Past Midnight). Finished Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch book. 248._UY475_SS475_

1957: Rewrote Quiet Days in Clichy upon recovery of manuscript, which had been lost for 15 years. Exhibition of water colors at Gallery One, London. Completely rewrote The World of Sex for publication by Olympia Press Paris. Exhibition of water colors in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Began writing Lime Twigs and Treachery but abandoned it to resume work on Nexus. Elected member of National Institute of Arts and Sciences.

1958: Continued work on Nexus.

1959: Finished Nexus in early April. Left for Europe with Eve and children on April 14. Rented studio on Rue Campagne-Premiere, Paris for two months. Visited Danish publisher on trip to Copenhagen with children; Gerald Robitaille acted as “governess.” First meeting with Antonio Bibalo, composer of opera The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder. Returned to Big Sur in the middle of August. Wrote the three letters contained in “Art and Outrage” (Perles-Durrell).

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1960: Wrote To Paint is to Love Again. Left for Europe April 4 to attend Cannes Film Festival as one of the judges. Spent a few days in Paris, then to Hamburg to visit Ledig-Rowohlt in Reinbek. There met Renate Gerhardt for the first time. After traveling in France and Italy, returned to Big Sur. Returned again to Europe. At Rowohlt Verlag, Reinbek, wrote preface to new edition of Elie Faure’s History of Art (Gallimard) and several minor pieces, including one in (crazy) German called “Ein Ungebumbelte Fuchselbizz” for a little review called Rhinozeros.

4125826Also did drawings and water colors for editor of the review, Rudolf Dienst. Made a number of water colors and played much ping pong (which is also, not coincidentally, the name of the Library’s literary magazine) at Rowohlt Verlag.  With Ledig and others visited Molln (Til Eulenspiegel’s birthplace) and the Luneberg Heide, Bremen and other places. Over Christmas holidays wrote first draft of Just Wild About Harry, chez Renate Gerhardt. 

1961: Toured Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Portugal and Spain. Visited Marino Marini, the famous sculptor, who did my head in bronze. Returned to Pacific Palisades from London in November. In this year Grove Press published Tropic of Cancer. 

1962: Began volume two of Nexus while in Pacific Palisades. Took trip to London to visit Perles and made tape with him for Canadian B.C. (television). Visited Ireland with him and his wife for a month. Then on to Paris to visit old and new friends. Went to Berlin “where I made ten copper plate etchings and more water colors at home of Renate Gerhardt.” Returned to New York at end of May. Received final decree of divorce from Eve in June. Back to Pacific Palisades in July.

Left for Edinburgh middle of July to attend Writers’ conference. Met Durrell (there, to the right, with Henry) there and his friend Dr. Raymond Mills. Made tape with Durrell for B.B.C. Radio, Geoffrey Bridson interviewing. Left with Durrell for Paris where we made readings for recordings from books (for La Voix de l’Auteur). The two Tropics were published in Italian (from Switzerland) and Cancer in Finnish, immediately suppressed. Also durrell-and-miller-postcard-300x203Cancer in Hebrew, in two thin paperback volumes. Capricorn published by Grove Press. Returned to Pacific Palisades end of November. 

1963: Cancer published in England by John Calder – “great success.” Wrote five or six prefaces for other authors’ books: Jack Bilbo, H.E. Bates, George Dibbern and so on.

Also text for Anne Poor’s drawings of Greece, published by Viking Press. Capricorn published by Viking Press. Capricorn issued in paperback by Grove Press and A Private Correspondence, with Lawrence Durrell, (Dutton) and Black Spring (Grove Press). Began making silk screens with nuns at Immaculate Heart College, Hollywood. Made 115 water colors from March to end of July.  Moved to Ocampo Drive in Pacific Palisades in February. Contracted for film of Tropic of Cancer with Joe Levine.  Just Wild About Harry published by New Directions, New York. 

1964: Henry Miller on Writing published by New Directions, New York. 

1965: Water color exhibition at Westwood Art Association, Los Angeles. Death of Eve, Miller’s third wife. Production of the opera The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder in Hamburg, Germany, in April.  “Great success.” Selected Prose published by MacGibbon and Kee (2 vols.), London.  Letters to Anais Nin published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York. 

1966:  Order and Chaos Chez Hans Reichel published by Loujon Press, Las Vegas, Nevada. 

1967:  The opera The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder produced in Marseilles, France, in French. The Henry Miller Odyssey film begun by Robert Snyder. Began study of Japanese with Michiyo Watanabe. Married Hoki Tokuda (below) on September 10 in Beverly Hills. Honeymoon trip to Paris in September with Hoki. Water color show at Daniel Gervis Gallery in Paris. Returned from Europe to Pacific Palisades. Water color show in Uppsala, Sweden. Opera, The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder produced in Trieste, Italy, in Italian, in December. 

11 Sep 1967, Beverly Hills, California, USA --- Author Henry Miller and His Wife --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

1968: Lawrence Durrell visited in Pacific Palisades in March. Water color show toured Japan. Collector’s Quest, a correspondence with J. Rives Childs, published by University Press of Virginia. Began My Life and Times by Henry Miller, a visual history, with Bradley Smith. New edition of To Paint is to Love Again published by Grossman, New York. This edition includes Semblance of a Devoted Past. 

1969: Premiere of The Henry Miller Odyssey at Royce Hall, U.C.L.A. Took trip to Europe in June to observe progress on Tropic of Cancer film. 

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1970: Tropic of Cancer film opened in U.S.  Quiet Days in Clichy film opened in U.S. Two colored lithographs of water colors printed and distributed by S. Kubo, Japan. Insomnia or the Devil at Large published by Loujon Press, Las Vegas, Nevada.  “Entretiens de Paris,” with Georges Belmont, (radio and television interviews) published in Paris. Received book of Year Award in Naples for Come il Colibri (Stand Still Like the Hummingbird).  “First and only prize I ever received for my literary work.”

1971: Just Wild About Harry to be produced in Paris. Publication of My Life and Times by Henry Miller by Playboy Press. Henry’s self-written biography, as included in My Life and Times published in 1971, stopped here.

Miller died in the summer of 1980.

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