Henry Miller

Henry Miller was a 20th century American writer, who created a new sort of novel—later characterized as a fictionalized autobiography.


American writer Henry Miller, born in Brooklyn, New York, is known for several 20th century works that reflect his own personal experiences, including Tropic of Cancer (1934), Black Spring (1936) and The Rosy Crucifixion Trilogy (1965). Miller's explicit and often obscene content led the way for a new generation of American writers. He died on June 7, 1980, in Pacific Palisades, California.

Early Life

American writer Henry Valentine Miller was born to German-American parents on December 26, 1891, in Yorkville, Manhattan, New York City. Along with younger sister Lauretta, Miller grew up in a working-class environment in Brooklyn. His father, Heinrich, was from Bavaria, Germany, and worked as a tailor. At a young age, Miller often spent time working in his father's shop. He would later describe his childhood as a difficult period in which he learned how to live on "the streets."

Miller was an exceptionally bright student, developing an early passion for reading. He particularly enjoyed adventure stories and literary classics. After graduating from high school, he enrolled at the City College of New York, but left after two months because he disagreed with the traditional college system of education. For 15 years, Miller tried his hand at several different odd jobs. During that period, he also focused on writing.

Writing Career

Following a difficult period in his personal life, including two unsuccessful marriages, Miller traveled to Paris, France, in hopes of fulfilling his dream of being a writer. Although he had little money, he spent the next 10 years (1930-40) writing some of his most well-known early works. He was financially supported at that time by French novelist Anais Nin, with whom Miller allegedly had an affair.

In 1934, Miller composed Tropic of Cancer, a semi-autobiographical account of his experiences in Paris. Its prequel, Tropic of Capricorn, was published in 1939. Due to their explicit sexual passages, both books were banned in the United States for nearly three decades. The publicity, however, helped bring Miller to fame, and the books became best sellers. Other works from this period include the novel Black Spring (1936) and the travelogue The Colossus of Maroussi (1941).

In 1940, Miller returned to America, settling on California's Pacific Coast. During that time, he offered comedic and often critical views of the United States in The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (1945), Remember to Remember (1947) and Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch (1958). His trilogy, The Rosy Crucifixion (1965), chronicled the struggles of an American writer trying to find success. Frequently shocking and offending critics, Miller's freedom of language and his ability to convey an honest truth opened the way for the "Beat Generation."

Personal Life and Death

Miller was married five times. He had one son, Henry, and two daughters, Barbara and Valentine. Miller died of circulatory problems on June 7, 1980, at the age of 88, in Pacific Palisades, California.

Prior to his death, Miller had begun working with Warren Beatty on the film Reds. Directed by and starring Beatty, Reds centers on a politically radical American journalist who covers the Russian Revolution prior to World War I. Miller played a witness in the film, which was released in late 1981.

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