Art Nerd City Guides: New York · Los Angeles

Williamsburg

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Henry Miller ca. 1940, photographed by Carl Vechten

Lit Nerd Wednesday!

Henry Miller hated New York. A lot. So much so that he trashed the city every chance he got until his dying days (more on that below). His childhood memories of Brooklyn were a different story untainted with the hardships he’d face years later, memories that he would often look back on with fondness and a dash of contempt. Those years were spent in Williamsburg in a nondescript apartment at 662 Driggs Avenue between North 1st and Metropolitan Avenue.

Born in 1891 he spent the first ten years of his life here in an etchnic melting pot of German, Irish, Italian, Jewish and Polish and witnessing the brutal honesty of Brooklyn street life — on the bottom floor of 662 was a barber shop who’s owner was the father of one of his friends — Miller would often see that friend be on the recieveing end of razor strop from the bitter and angry father. Across the way was a vet who one day castrated a stallion in the middle of the street which provided free theatre for the residents on Driggs.

One of his favorite streets was Fillmore Place just around the corner which he described in Tropic of Capricorn as “the most enchanting street I have ever seen…ideal for a boy, a lover, a maniac, a drunkard, a crook, a lecher, a thug, an astronomer, a musician, a poet, a tailor, a shoemaker, a politican. A street of value, of dignity, of light, of surprises.”

In 1901 the Millers left Williamsburg for Bushwick settling at 1063 Decatur Street. Brooklyn still clung to Miller as an adult — he lived for a time in Park Slope then Brooklyn Heights with his wife June at the start of their tumultuous relationship. From there it was off to Paris and the rest is banned book history.

What a button!

Who: Henry Miller

Where: 662 Driggs Avenue

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