New Review of Henry Miller: The Last Days

Here is a new, abridged version of a review by Resources for American Literary Study:

Henry Miller, the Last Days: A Memoir
By Barbara Kraft. San Antonio: Sky Blue P, 2016. 203 pp. $15.

Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller (1891-1980) both shared part of their private lives with Barbara Kraft, giving her the unimaginable opportunity of being alongside two of the more memorable writers of the twentieth century during their final years. Kraft became an important source of support and enjoyment for the ailing writers. Anaïs Nin: The Last Days, A Memoir (2011) is Kraft’s account of her time with Nin, and this current memoir details the events surrounding her friendship with Miller. Drawing from her diary recording that period, Kraft provides an intimate view into Miller’s ups and downs with his failing health. We are presented with a Miller very much alive and connected—albeit growing more disinterested—with the world around him, vivacious in his love for Brenda Venus, continuing his endless correspondence, and publishing short works. Miller’s home life, however, was increasingly troubled, and Kraft elucidates biographical details of Miller’s household that have been overlooked by his many biographers.

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Following the international fame Miller attained in the early 1960s due to his pornography trial and resulting American and British publication of his Tropic novels, he became a sought-after outsider. With this (mostly) unwanted attention, the aging writer tended to avoid many of his devoted fans. In reaction to this sometimes-aggressive public attention, Miller may have subconsciously tried to regain some privacy by keeping separate the various sections of his life. Kraft recalls that Miller had a revolving collection of sixteen different “chefs” visiting his house, of whom Kraft was one—these were people whom Miller had asked to cook him dinner a few times a month—yet, over the course of nearly three years, Kraft never met any of the others. Because of Miller’s tendency to pigeonhole his friends into various parts of his life, it is understandable that Kraft’s memoir is very much centered on Miller’s kitchen, a place where she spent many evenings conversing with Miller, sometimes bringing special visitors with whom Kraft thought Miller might find an affinity.

From a biographical perspective, Kraft’s Henry Miller, The Last Days is an important addition to the memoirs and reflections on Miller’s Pacific Palisades time.

By the beginning of 1980, the inevitable final decline in Miller’s health became apparent to Kraft. Death came slowly, and Kraft recalls the waiting for the moment when his life would end. During these last months, Miller was still mostly cognizant of his surroundings, but his body increasingly failed him. He refused to let Venus see him in such a condition and turned down an opportunity presented by Kraft to meet Eugene Ionesco, one of his favorite playwrights. As his body failed, Miller’s mind also drifted, sometimes back to his days in France, and he soon required Pickerill’s assistance with all of his daily functions. Kraft moves quickly through these months, as Miller’s ability to interact with guests decreased and she had to devote more attention to her own personal life.

The memoir ends with Miller’s death, and by ending there, it appears that Kraft had no personal involvement with Miller’s posthumous family affairs. Why it took Kraft twenty-three years to set down a detailed reflection on her friendship with Miller seems irrelevant; for those interested in Miller, Kraft recollects the events as if they had just recently unfolded, writing in the first person. Ultimately, the expanded details of the book-length memoir provide a final glimpse of Miller from a perspective that no other biographer will be able to portray.

WAYNE E. ARNOLD, The University of Kitakyushu, Japan, for Resources for American Literary Study

To order a print copy of Henry Miller: The Last Days, click here.

To order a digital copy, click here.

Podcast 29: Anaïs Nin’s Lost World with Britt Arenander

Swedish author Britt Arenander discusses the new English language version of her Anaïs Nin’s Lost World: Paris in Words and Pictures, 1924-1939, which is in now in print. Lost World contains more than 50 photographs, many of them vintage, of Anaïs Nin’s and Henry Miller’s favorite haunts and living quarters in and around Paris during the most interesting period of their lives. Included is a concise but thorough guide through the streets of Paris.

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Hotel Orphila, immortalized by August Strindberg

As Arenander says, the book was a labor of love and required a great deal of detective work to retrace Nin’s steps as she visited the places described in the 1920s and 1930s diaries. Astoundingly, most of them still exist, and some retain the ambience that Nin and Miller enjoyed some 85 years ago.

And there are surprises: Nin, shortly after moving to Paris in the 1920s, unwittingly inhabited a room at Hotel Orphila, which the writer August Strindberg made famous in the late 1800s. The brothel Nin mentions in Henry and June is still located at 32 rue Blondel and is still a brothel. The lawn furniture Arenander photographed in the yard of the famed Louveciennes house was there as early as 1910, evidenced by a rare photograph of the owner reclining on the same chaise that was photographed 80 years later. The street where Henry Miller and Alfred Perlès lived in Clichy was immortalized in a post card from 1932—which includes their apartment building.

Arenander also dispels the myth about why Nin was denied entrance to her former Louveciennes home in 1971, as revealed by a conversation with the owner, the reputed Monsieur Auzépy, the very man who allowed the house to lay empty and crumbling for decades.

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Run time: 20 minutes

To listen to the podcast with iTunes, click here.

To listen without iTunes, click here.

To order the print version of Anaïs Nin’s Lost World, click here.

To order the digital version of Anaïs Nin’s Lost World, click here.

Podcast 23: The Diary of Anais Nin: Who Was In, Who Was Out

Fifty years ago Anaïs Nin’s decades-long struggle to escape obscurity and misunderstanding came to an explosive end when Harcourt published the first volume of The Diary of Anaïs Nin. It was an instant commercial and critical smash and propelled Nin from the shadows into the spotlight, from acult figure status to fame, at the age of 63, a status she would enjoy until her death in 1977.

The Diary is noted for its character study of Henry Miller and his wife June, as well as several other notable people, and it was done in a way that left out the intimate details of Nin’s love life, which kept her husband, family, and lovers from being hurt or scandalized. Even without this aspect of Nin’s life, the Diary was hailed as a fascinating document of the inner life of a creative and incredibly intuitive woman-artist who socialized with fascinating people in Paris of the 1930s…and because it was released at the dawn of second-wave feminism and the overall “youth movement” of the 1960s, it resonated with young people, especially young women who saw Nin as a sort of feminist and free-thinking pioneer. The timing could not have been better.

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Eduardo Sanchez’s letter to Anais Nin (fragment) Click to enlarge

What is generally unknown about the Diary is what had to be done in order to include the characters who inhabit it. Had Henry Miller declined to be in it, it probably never would have been published, or if it had, it certainly would not have been as successful. In this podcast, we find out exactly what Miller thought about his portrait, and what he asked Nin to keep or delete.

We also hear from two people important to Nin—English writer Rebecca West and cousin Eduardo Sánchez—both of whom refused to allow Nin to include them. West was one of Nin’s earliest female idols, and Sánchez was Nin’s childhood crush and her confidant during her early adulthood. Sánchez’s condemnation of not only his portrait, but the Diary itself, is astounding, as you will hear in a letter he wrote to Nin in 1965.

Run time: 12:33

To listen to the podcast with iTunes, click here.

To listen without iTunes, click here.

This podcast is sponsored by Auletris: Erotica by Anaïs Nin, just released 75 years after it was written.

Henry and June, the Movie

On this day in 1990, Henry and June, the first NC-17 movie, premiered. The only reason I wanted to see it was because of the rating—I had to know what it meant. I knew it was the new X, so there had to be sex, and lots of it. I could tell from the trailer that it wasn’t the American formula of sex and violence, which I abhor (think Basic Instinct), and that it was set in Paris in the 1930s, which intrigued me, so off we went.

hjmovieWhen the film began, I must have missed the part that said it was based on the diary of Anaïs Nin, so I thought that Nin and Henry Miller were fictional characters. The theatre was mostly empty—I was later to find out that the NC-17 rating killed any chance for a wide audience. I feel that the rating was uncalled for, that there was nothing in the film that didn’t cry out “R”—but I suppose it was because of the so-called “lesbian scene,” during which Nin asks two female prostitutes to make love while she watched (and most of that scene was left to the imagination). Henry and June would never be rated NC-17 today, and I imagine the rating still keeps many from seeing it, which is a shame, in my opinion.

The film, I thought, was a bit over-acted, and it was not, by any stretch of the imagination, the sexiest of films—and yet it “got” me. I felt the same way I did when I saw the first Star Wars film—like a kid on an adventure. Only this adventure was of the mind, of sensuality, of freedom, of daring, risk-taking, creativity, and joy. It was a rebellion against the status quo.

And then, when the final credits rolled, I discovered that not only were Nin and Miller real people, they wrote about everything I’d just seen. On the way home, we stopped at the used book store and I bought Diary 1 and Tropic of Cancer.

Little did I know that my curiosity about a sexy movie would shape the rest of my life and career.

To order Henry and June, the movie, click here.

To see the full trailer of the movie, click here.

This blog post is sponsored by The Quotable Anaïs Nin: 365 Quotations with Citations and The Portable Anaïs Nin.

Barbara Kraft reads from Henry Miller: The Last Days

Barbara Kraft, author of a new memoir on Henry Miller, recently gave a reading at a Santa Monica library, which was video recorded and is now ready to be viewed.

Kraft not only speaks of her close relationship with the literary titan during his final two years, but also reminisces about her friendship with Anais Nin during the years just before her death–a relationship that was independent of that with Miller. Kraft’s gift to Miller and Nin fans are her two beautifully written memoirs:

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Each book is the perfect companion for the other.

To watch the video, click here. (Run time: 49 minutes)

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Podcast 17: Barbara Kraft Interviews Henry Miller

At about 4:30 on a Saturday afternoon, June 7, 1980, rebel author Henry Miller died in the arms of his caretaker in Pacific Palisades, California, which marked the end of an amazing era, one that saw literature turned upside down, saw the draconian obscenity laws of the US taken apart after long court battles. Few had heard of Miller before his Tropic of Cancer was finally published after a nearly 30-year wait, but he rose to instant stardom in the twilight of his life.

Henry Miller

Henry Miller

Miller moved into a seemingly bourgeois neighborhood, 444 Ocampo Drive, Pacific Palisades during the 1960s, but what went on there was anything but bourgeois. A constant parade of people came and went, some staying for a while, others coming on a regular basis to cook for Miller and to make conversation. One of these cooks was Barbara Kraft, who became an intimate friend during the last two years of Miller’s life. She has just published a memoir, Henry Miller: The Last Days, which chronicles her experiences with Miller and his entourage.

To commemorate Miller’s 88th birthday, Kraft recorded what would be the last substantial interview of his life. In it he speaks about his philosophy on life, writing, women and men, religion, politics, sex, love, marriage and spirituality. He mentions his hero Blaise Cendrars, his Paris companion Alfred Perlès, his meeting with Emma Goldman, Stroker publisher Irving Stettner, and, of course, Anaïs Nin.

The interview was broadcast on December 26, 1979 on KCRW, and to commemorate the passing of a literary legend, we are presenting it in its entirety for our podcast.

Run time: 1 hour

To listen to the podcast with iTunes, click here.

To listen to the podcast without iTunes, click here.

To order Barbara Kraft’s memoir Henry Miller: The Last Days, click here.

Henry Miller and Emma Goldman

To celebrate the publication of Barbara Kraft’s new memoir Henry Miller: The Last Days, we are posting a clip from Kraft’s 1979 interview with Henry Miller. In the clip, he discusses how Emma Goldman, a champion for workers’ rights, inspired him to become a writer.

To listen to the clip, click here.

To see more about Henry Miller: The Last Days, click here.

Emma Goldman speaking, 1916

Emma Goldman speaking, 1916

Podcast 16: Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller with Barbara Kraft

In 1974, Barbara Kraft sent Anaïs Nin, who was offering to mentor writers, a submission that was accepted. Just after Kraft met the famous diarist, Nin discovered she had cancer and began a two-year descent into pain and suffering, but Kraft and Nin forged a deep friendship that helped Nin transcend the illness. Nin’s relentless spirit in the face of death is the subject of Kraft’s first memoir, Anaïs Nin: The Last Days (2011, Sky Blue Press).

FrontCoverEbookSoon after Nin died in early 1977, Kraft attended a talk by Henry Miller and was so impressed that she wrote “An Open Letter to Henry Miller,” which was broadcast on a local NPR station. When Miller heard a recording of the “Letter,” he immediately sought Kraft out, and he eventually asked her to be one of sixteen rotating cooks who would not only cook dinner for him, but engage in conversation. She accepted, and soon she was conversing with the Tropic of Cancer writer on a regular basis about life, art, religion, sex, philosophy and, of course, writing. Kraft became more than a cook, though—she also was Miller’s confidante and, in the end, the one responsible for making sure he didn’t die alone in the chaotic house in Pacific Palisades, all of which is included in her latest book Henry Miller: The Last Days (2016, Sky Blue Press).

Listen as Kraft reflects upon these two intimate, but very different, friendships and how she captures the essence of both Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller.

Run time: 29 minutes

To listen to the podcast with iTunes, click here.

To listen without iTunes, click here.

For more on Henry Miller: The Last Days, click here.

For more on Anaïs Nin: The Last Days, click here.

Henry Miller: The Last Days

Barbara Kraft’s new memoir, Henry Miller: The Last Days is available in print now and will be published in digital format May 20, 2016.

FrontCoverEbookKraft met Henry Miller in 1977, only months after her friend—and Miller’s former lover—Anaïs Nin died. Kraft was so impressed by Miller that she reread virtually all of his work and broadcast an “open letter” to Miller on an NPR station. When Miller heard a recording of the show, he invited Kraft to become one of his sixteen rotating cooks.

(Click here to hear Kraft and Miller discussing the arrangement.)

Kraft returned on a regular basis to the Miller household and struck up an intimate friendship with the famous author, recording daily events and conversations in her diary. The operations of the household were anything but normal—they were largely carried out by various individual who came and went, and the person in charge of them was a serious drug addict. It was largely due to Kraft’s intervention that Miller didn’t die of malnutrition and, in the end, didn’t die alone.

To see details of Henry Miller: The Last Days, click here.

To see details of Anais Nin: The Last Days, click here.

A Café in Space: Barbara Kraft remembers Henry Miller

In her contribution to Volume 13 of A Café in Space: The Anaïs Nin Literary Journal, Barbara Kraft shares the beginning of her forthcoming memoir Henry Miller: The Last Days, which will be published soon by Sky Blue Press.

Henry Miller

After delivering An Open Letter to Henry Miller on public radio in 1977, Miller invited Kraft to cook dinner for him, and she eventually became a regular at the Miller household.

Here, Kraft describes her first meeting with Miller:

“A half hour had passed when I heard a slow shuffling noise in the kitchen and then the famous voice. Leaning on his walker, it was a labored crossing and there he was. Dressed in pajamas and a blue terrycloth robe, fluffy white bedroom slippers and white socks on his feet, Miller continued to charm. Frail, fragile, deaf in one ear, blind in one eye, lame on one side but not broken. Age could not touch him; his spirit was indefatigable and still quite miraculous. The eternal clown, the gentle jester.”

Read the entire excerpt in volume 13, along with an excerpt from Anaïs Nin’s forthcoming Trapeze: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin and Benjamin Franklin V’s introduction to the book, essays by Nin scholars from around the world, testimonies by women writers influenced by Nin, short fiction, poetry, photographs and visual art.

To order Volume 13 of A Café in Space, which is available in print and as an ebook, click here.

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