Library Girl literary series gathers local artists to celebrate Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin
By Bliss Bowen
“I walk ahead of myself in perpetual expectancy of miracles.” — Anaïs Nin
“I live in perpetual expectancy. You come and the time slips away in a dream. It is only when you go that I realize completely your presence. And then it is too late. … I don’t know what to expect of you, but it is something in the way of a miracle. I am going to demand everything of you — even the impossible, because you encourage it.” — Henry Miller
(“A Literate Passion: Letters of Anaïs Nin & Henry Miller 1932-1953”)
Few literary relationships have been as provocative as that of Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller.
The volume and fierce intimacy of the decades-long correspondence between the controversial writers is remarkable — even more so when you consider that their epistolary connection developed out of an illicit romance conducted in France in the 1930s, and subsequently survived their breakup, separate returns to the States and various marriages (including Nin’s bigamous union with ex-actor Rupert Pole while still wed to Hugo Guiler).
They shared encouragement, criticism and spirited counsel, and remained friends and loyal creative advocates until Nin’s 1977 death in Los Angeles at age 73. (Miller followed three-and-a-half years later, dying in Pacific Palisades at age 88.)
Mutual passion for writing, and the discoveries it yields, transcended personal conflicts.
Magnificent self-absorption probably made them hellish companions, but also produced writings now regarded as modern classics. Miller correctly predicted that Nin’s sexually adventurous, self-obsessed diaries would be her enduring legacy; Nin championed Miller’s unconventional style throughout the decades when his explicit novels, including “Tropic of Cancer” and “The Rosy Crucifixion” trilogy, were banned in the United States.
Their combined works are the subject of a tribute being staged by Library Girl this Sunday.
A “mixed-genre literary series,” Library Girl is the astutely curated brainchild of writer Susan Hayden.
Last month the Santa Monica Arts Foundation presented Hayden with the Artist in the Community/Bruria Finkel Award for “her significant contributions to the energetic discourse within Santa Monica’s arts community.”
Since launching Library Girl in October 2009, Hayden has befriended and hosted myriad actors, essayists, musicians, novelists, page and performance poets, playwrights and songwriters (including this writer) on the second Sunday of each month at the Ruskin Theatre.
Performer styles and backgrounds vary, but strength of voice is a constant — that particular distillation of linguistic expression and personal intensity that is the hallmark of true writers, regardless of medium. Hayden says she relies on “instinct, recommendations and blind faith” when selecting participants.
“I don’t hypercurate the show,” she explains. “So I don’t necessarily know what will be read that night. I like to be surprised; that’s part of the fun for me. There’s an energy balance when doing the actual lineup, but choosing artists is instinctive. I know who’s reading, I get a take on their personality, and that’s how I figure it out. I try to mix it up. … I’m always open to a new voice in the community.”
The series has been a source of healing for Hayden, who started it after the tragic death of her husband, actor Christopher Allport.
“I felt fractured,” she recalls. “I was lost, I was at bay, I didn’t know who I was without him. It took diving back into the literary community to find out. Being forced to rebuild my life and my son’s life and creating this show led me to my own wholeness.”
Past shows have celebrated songwriters like Leonard Cohen, Elliott Smith and Cat Stevens. Most are constructed around a theme — usually a song title or lyric, such as Joni Mitchell’s “Come in From the Cold” — with artists presenting relevant pieces they’ve composed. Hayden says actor Darrell Larson (“a great idea person”) suggested the Miller-Nin tribute, which elicited such enthusiastic response that Hayden’s already promised a second tribute.
“I had been posting a lot of mini quotes from Anais on my Facebook page, so we started talking about how great it would be,” she explains. “I’m not a believer in affairs when you’re married, but I started to think about how theirs was a relationship of projection. Aren’t they all? But this really is. The letters have always been fascinating to me. I’m not a huge Henry Miller fan, but I do love Nin; she’s an older adult role model for me, in this stage of my life.”
Each month, Hayden funds and promotes the show, then donates the proceeds to the Ruskin.
“It’s my way to help them stay alive,” she says. “At this point I’m more focused on community building than creating my own art, my writing. It’s been a real blessing to do it. I feel like I’ve facilitated a sense of belonging for the artists and audience members. It’s a very unpretentious community.”
Library Girl presents “Perpetual Expectancy: A Tribute to Anaïs Nin & Henry Miller in Words & Music (Part One)” with writers Rick Bursky, Sea R. Glassman, Julia Ingalls, Donny Jackson, Doug Knott, Nathalie Kramer, Darrell Larson, Shivani Mehta and Andrea R. Vaucher, plus music from Hazel Moon and Mason Summit, at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Ruskin Group Theatre, 3000 Airport Ave., Santa Monica. Tickets are $10 at ruskingrouptheatre.com.