Henry Miller Profile

Carolyn and I have celebrated numerous events at the Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur over the years, and she has had many poetry readings there. Located on the Pacific Coast Highway, and nestled among the glorious redwood trees, this beautiful library documents the life of the late author and artist Henry Miller, and also serves as a performance venue and art gallery, where local artists can exhibit their work. It’s a magical place that is cherished by the local community and loved by the many international visitors passing through Big Sur, where Henry Miller is remembered as a legendary figure.

Henry Miller is another brilliant writer whom Carolyn and I have both admired. His semi-autobiographical novel Tropic of Cancer was a creative whirlwind that blew my mind apart when I first read it in my early twenties. Miller’s writing was a revolution; he created his own unique literary style, combining actual events from his life, with fantasies and exaggerations, as well as explicit sexuality, philosophical reflections, surrealist free association, Eastern philosophy, and mysticism.

Some of Miller’s most famous books, which were based upon his experiences in New York and Paris— such as Tropic of Cancer (first published in 1934), and Black Spring — were controversial when they were first published, largely due to their explicit sexual descriptions, and were officially banned in the United States until 1964. Tropic of Cancer was published in 1961 by the Grove Press in the U.S., challenging the ban. This led to obscenity trials, resulting in the Supreme Court’s official lifting of the ban in 1964. However, Miller’s banned books had been smuggled into the U.S. prior to 1961, and he built an underground reputation in the States before the ban was officially lifted.

Miller’s later works were less sexually explicit, more philosophical, and often critical of consumerism in America— such as The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, which was published in 1945, and also introduces elements of Hindu philosophy. Miller’s impressionist travelogue The Colossus of Maroussi, about his nine months in Greece in 1939, is frequently considered his best book. Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch, another favorite, was published in 1957 and is a collection of wonderful stories about his time in Big Sur, and the extraordinary people that he met.

Some quotes that Henry Miller is remembered for include:

The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.

The one thing we can never get enough of is love. And the one thing we never give enough of is love.

I need to be alone. I need to ponder my shame and my despair in seclusion; I need the sunshine and the paving stones of the streets without companions, without conversation, face-to-face with myself, with only the music of my heart for company.

Develop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature, music – the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.

Miller was a powerhouse of creative energy. In addition to his revered literary abilities, Miller was also an accomplished artist who produced several thousand watercolor paintings and published several books of his artwork.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to interview Henry Miller, although I would have loved to; he died years before I started doing interviews.

by David Jay Brown