Henry Miller (1891-1980) was an American writer and painter. His many books included Tropic of Cancer, Black Spring, Tropic of Capricorn, The Cosmological Eye, Quiet Days in Clichy, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare and The Rosy Crucifixion trilogy. He wrote about his life in New York and Paris, especially his sexual life. Developing a new literary form, he combined story, social criticism, philosophy, free association and mysticism, and he blended fiction and reality. He also wrote travel memoirs and literary criticism. He greatly influenced a number of writers, especially within the Beat Generation. His painting was mostly done in watercolors.
Miller was groundbreaking in the depiction of sexuality in his books. His language was explicit, and the acts described were graphic. Tropic of Cancer, his first published book, was published in Paris and banned in the United States and Britain on the grounds of obscenity. Several subsequent books were banned but smuggled into the US, earning him an underground reputation. Finally, in 1961, Tropic of Cancer was published in the United States, leading to a number of obscenity trials and culminating in the 1964 Supreme Court decision in Grove Press, Inc., v. Gerstein that declared the book a work of literature. It was a watershed moment for sexual art.
I have always been ambivalent about Henry Miller’s work. While I value its vitality, I have often been revolted by its grossness. But, with the 1964 Supreme Court decision that began to free sexual art in the United States, no one can deny its importance.