Kindred Spirit: Paul Herron on Anaïs Nin – An Interview

Click to buy Mirages, edited by Paul Herron.

Click to buy Mirages, edited by Paul Herron.

I can’t even tell you how thrilled we are to interview Paul Herron about Anaïs Nin. Editor of Sky Blue Press, Paul Herron has promoted the work of Anaïs Nin since 1996, beginning with the anthology Anaïs Nin: A Book of Mirrors. He edits the annual A Cafe in Space: The Anaïs Nin Literary Journal and is the editor of both Mirages: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1939-1947 (Sky Blue Press/Swallow Press) and the forthcoming Trapeze: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anais Nin, 1947-1955. He also podcasts about Anaïs Nin at Sky Blue Press.

I, Lana, am a huge fan of Paul Herron’s work, (in fact, I’m thrilled that he’ll be publishing an essay by yours truly in the next volume of ‘A Cafe in Space’) and was honored to interview him here:

I know from your wonderful Anaïs Nin Podcast that you visited Paris when you’d first discovered Nin’s work. Why was that trip to the city where Nin once lived so important for you? It made everything real, palpable. For the first time I could visit physical structures referred to in the Diary. It was here she met Henry Miller. It was there she moored her houseboat. It was here she danced Spanish dances. It was there where she and Miller had their first sexual encounter. And then meeting people associated with these places made everything human. The friends I made in Louveciennes, for example, made it possible for me to get invited inside her legendary “laboratory of the soul” on Nin’s 100th birthday, and I was surrounded by those who loved her. There is no substitute for that. It truly changed my life, opened the doors to a world of people I’d never have known otherwise.

Fans of Nin’s diaries will probably be aware that she was no stranger to secret liaisons and affairs. Why would you say she was so bold in the way she lived her life erotically? She wasn’t bold at all at first, but she had the desire to be with other men beginning in her mid-twenties for two reasons, I believe. One was that she had a very poor sexual relationship with her husband, Hugh Guiler—they were both virgins, and neither knew how to take charge or how to satisfy the other. The other was that Nin’s father abandoned the family for a young, pretty girl, and Nin sought to be the “jolie,” the young pretty girl who could woo men into her bed. After a failed attempt at a tryst with one of her husband’s old college professors, she met the sexually savvy Henry Miller, who, as Nin put it, taught her how to be a woman. Once she had the confidence bred by experience, she was able to easily move on to other men—and by the time her affair with Miller was over in the 1940s, the number was legion. It wasn’t until she met Rupert Pole, her “West Coast husband,” that she actually “settled down” to just two men (Pole, and her legal husband, Hugh Guiler).

In your view, why is it so important that Nin’s unexpurgated diaries have been—and are still being—published? It was Nin’s desire that it “all be published.” Rupert Pole saw to it that the first four unexpurgated diaries were done, beginning with Henry and June in 1986, the year after Guiler died. This diary, and the others that followed, told what could not be told in the original Diary (published between 1966 and 1980) because all of the principal characters (Guiler, Miller, etc.) were gone. These diaries fill in the gaps and give us the other side of her life—the intimate one. In a perfect world, the diaries would have been published in total, but if Nin was to achieve validation during her lifetime, this was the only formula that could work. We are fortunate that Pole Xeroxed all of Nin’s original handwritten diaries because with them the work can continue, and is, and will until we reach the final entry weeks before Nin’s death.

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Erotic writers and readers often know of Delta of Venus and Little Birds—Nin’s erotica collections. How did she feel about these collections compared to her other writings? She vehemently opposed the idea of publishing them. She felt the erotica was not worthy of her reputation, that it wasn’t really literature, but writing done to make money alone ($1 per page when she was broke in the early 1940s). Rupert Pole was the one who recognized their value, and he “tricked” Nin by inviting her editor John Ferrone out to have a look at the “best-seller collecting dust in the cellar.” Nin finally gave in and allowed Ferrone, whom she trusted, to read the erotica and give her honest feedback. The rest is history. Ferrone deserves credit for the masterful job of editing hundreds of pages into cohesive, erotic stories. Nin reluctantly agreed that there was merit in the work in her postscript to the Introduction to Delta of Venus, but she didn’t live to see it on the bestseller list—the book debuted only weeks after her death.

One of the most powerful pieces of writing I’ve ever read is Anaïs Nin’s diary entry that describes how her father seduced her. How was Incest: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin (1932-1934), which contained these revelations, received when it was first published? Did it affect how her overall work was perceived? It depends on who you ask. The Puritan element of American critics and readers was repulsed by the incest passage, not to mention the long, grueling abortion passage at the end of the same book. Reviews concentrated on Nin’s morality (or lack thereof) rather than the writing, a curse which has followed her throughout her publishing history. It was a daring act for Pole to bring this book out, but I personally believe it is absolutely necessary if one seeks to truly understand Nin and her motivations.

What was it like to be the editor of Mirages: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1939–1947? I was given two boxes, each with an unedited manuscript, in the hopes that I “could do something with it.” The diaries were called In Search of Lost Joy and The Transparent Child, the first covering 1939-1943, the second 1943-1946. They had been rejected by Harcourt in the 1990s for a number of reasons. No one wanted them. They were given to someone to shop around, which ended in failure. You have to understand Nin’s reputation was at an all-time low then, after the Incest fallout, not to mention Deirdre Bair’s 1995 biography on Nin, which many perceive to be highly negative. I gladly undertook the challenge and knew right away that this was a treasure that needed work. The first thing I did was to consolidate both diaries into one, and the second was to include Nin’s meeting Pole at the end of the volume. This odyssey needed a hopeful ending. Otherwise I believe it may have been very discouraging for the reader—when one crosses a desert, as Nin did in a very sexual way for nearly a decade—there needs to be something at the end of the journey. And that was Rupert. Working on this diary was by far the most comprehensive project I’d ever undertook, but I had a mentor who helped me immensely—John Ferrone. “Be bold,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to do what is necessary to make it great reading.” And truth be told, I had felt a certain reluctance to jump into the text and make real improvements. With that fear gone, the rest was easy. The knowledge of how important this book would be to the Nin catalogue is what drove me. It is a fascinating story, from beginning to end, and one cannot say they understand Nin without reading this book. It was a season in hell for Nin, the breakup of her most important extramarital relationships (including the one with Miller), and her radical reinvention of herself both as a woman and as a writer. Mirages, which has just be released as a paperback, can be found here.

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At Go Deeper, we are all so excited for the publication of Trapeze: The Unexpurgated Diary of Anais Nin, 1947-1955, which has never before been published in unexpurgated form. We know that Nin had two husbands during this time. Can you give us a glimpse of how she dealt with these two marriages? To say she used smoke and mirrors would be an understatement. She was, out of necessity, obsessivly organized and ready for anything—fearless, in fact, in the face of the potential disaster of Guiler and Pole discovering each other. She had to convince each man that her being away on the other side of the country was not only believable, but credible. She invented jobs, assignments which required travel, magazines that didn’t exist for whom she worked, and she had a team of friends on both coasts who were willing to cover for her should a crisis occur. They fielded phone calls, handled mail, kept one man occupied while the other was with Nin, and shared in Nin’s “lie box,” which was filled with index cards of what to say under what circumstances to whom at any given time. And when one thinks of when this began (1947) and how long it went on (30 years), it is utterly amazing. In 1966, when Nin’s first diary came out, Pole found out that Nin was still married to Guiler (Nin told him), and Guiler secretly discovered the presence of Pole and the nature of his relationship with Nin—but he didn’t mention it until after Nin’s death, in a letter to Pole.

Do any of Anaïs Nin’s books speak to you particularly profoundly, on a personal level? They all do, in different ways. Diary 1 was the first Nin book I read, and it was there I discovered a kindred spirit in her, and realized that I wasn’t alone in the world with my personal problems. I was prompted to discover my unknown self, the one buried deep within, while reading that book.

So many of us have personal stories about how Anaïs Nin’s work and life have affected us. Can you share a moment, be it big or small, from your own life, when she changed things for you? My life changed immediately upon reading Diary 1. Shortly after, I had a dream: I walk into what seems to be an old-fashioned general store. Bags of grain, barrels of pickles, tools—from the past. Behind the counter is an elderly woman who has dark, burning eyes and a warm smile. I ask her where I could find something. She says, “Come with me.” She leads me into a back room where there is a ladder leading up to the attic. “Climb the ladder and open the door—you’ll find what you’re looking for.” I climb up and open the door—and when I poke my head through, what surrounds me is the entire universe. (I still get tingles when I think about it.) I come back down. The woman is gone, but not the feelings. The woman, I realized later, was Anaïs.

Where can our readers find out more about Anaïs Nin and yourself? I have an Anaïs Nin Blog and my Twitter account is @AnaisNinBlog. The Sky Blue Press collection of books by and about Anaïs Nin can be found here. I can be found on Facebook and you can find my Anaïs Nin Podcast on the blog and here.

Cathedral200x300Thank you so much, Paul, for taking the time to answer so many of our excitable questions so beautifully! What an amazing, enriching interview. We look forward to Trapeze with baited breath!

Fellow fans of Anaïs Nin might be interested in Cathedral of Furs: Ardent Erotica Inspired by Anaïs Nin (available at Go Deeper, Amazon, Nook, and elsewhere)

Readers might also be interested in:

Sky Blue Press

Rose Caraway interviewing Paul Herron (Podcast)

Cream: An Erotic Romance (Amazon / Go Deeper)

Bookstore at Go Deeper Press