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Anaïs Nin (February 21, 1903 – January 14, 1977), best known for her Diaries series, embodied the practice of writing as a grand passion and a path to delving deeply into the self. In this sense, she foreshadowed the immediacy of today’s world of self-revelatory memoir.She was a splendid and prolific essayist as well.
Born in France, her full original name was Angela Anaïs Juana Antolina Rosa Edelmira Nin y Culmell. Her father, Joaquin Nin, a composer, deserted the family when Anaïs was about 11 years old. He and her mother, Rosa Culmell y Vigaraud, were of Cuban descent with traces of French, Spanish, and Danish ancestry.
Anaïs spent her teens in the U.S., starting out in Catholic school. She dropped out, became self-educated, and worked as a model and dancer before returning to Europe in the 1920s.
Writing shaped her life
From the earliest of her diaries, written while still in her teens, to one of her last essays, published just a year before her death in 1977, it’s clear that writing was what she believed shaped her life and gave it meaning. Best known for her multi-volume series, The Diary of Anaïs Nin (if not for her tumultuous love life, whose affect on her work will be detailed in later chapters), she wrote these journals over the span of more than thirty years (not including her Early Diaries series).
“… you don’t write for yourself or for others. You write out of a deep inner necessity. If you are a writer, you have to write, just as you have to breathe, or if you’re a singer you have to sing. But you’re not aware of doing it for someone. This need to write was for me as strong as the need to live. I needed to live, but I also needed to record what I lived. It was a second life, it was my way of living in a more heightened way.” (from “The Artist as Magician,” an interview, 1973)
An early self-publisher
Early on in her writing career, Anaïs was unable to find a publisher for her work, unable to find any that would take a risk on Under a Glass Bell, a collection of eight short stories. She and her then-husband, Hugh Guiler founded Gemor Press in 1944 and printed an edition. Three years later, a British publisher agreed to republish the collection, expanded by two novellas and Nin’s famous prose poem, “House of Incest.” Nin’s friend and lover Gore Vidal used his clout to encourage his publisher, Dutton, to publish the collection in the U.S. in 1945.
Anaïs Nin page on Amazon
A prolific love life
Anaïs had many well-known love affairs, most famously with Henry Miller and his wife, June Miller, which she wrote of, fittingly, in Henry and June. She was also involved with Gore Vidal, Edmund Wilson, and Otto Rank. Her first husband was Hugh Guiler, with whom she had an open marriage. She was still married to him when she married Rupert Pole, and eventually the first marriage was annulled.
Though it’s generally believed that she wrote her Diaries with an eye toward eventual publication, it wasn’t until the 1960s that they were published and acclaimed as feminist classics, portraying one woman’s lifelong voyage of self-discovery.
The Diaries were largely written in the years 1931 to 1974. Her personal quest for self-knowledge ended up becoming an in-depth, honest look at the universal issues affecting women in all walks of life. “It’s all right for a woman to be, above all, human. I am a woman first of all,” she wrote.
You might also like: Anaïs Nin’s Diaries: From the Personal to the Universal
By the standards of today’s confessional media, Nin’s frank writings may no longer seem as revolutionary as they did just a generation ago. In the final volume of the Diaries (Volume Seven, 1966-1974), she delights in sharing snippets from the countless letters of gratitude she received from women everywhere, in all walks of life, for example: “The Diaries wakened me, made me relive my life, enjoy it, find new aspects to dream about; you gave me a second life.”
Nin also broke ground as a writer of female erotica —The Delta of Venus and Little Birds most notably, which were published posthumously. She wrote the pieces in Delta for a dollar a page in the 1940s.The last of the Diaries was published in the 1980s, also after her death.
A feminist icon
After achieving worldwide recognition after the first volume of the Diaries in 1966, Nin became a feminist icon, was a frequent speaker on college campuses and at feminist events. Later in her life, she distanced herself from the more militant, political factions of the second-wave feminist movement.
Anaïs Nin died of cancer on January 14, 1977, in Los Angeles, CA.
More about Anaïs Nin on this site
- The Young Anaïs Nin: Compelled to Write; So Unsure of Herself
- Nin on Why She Published the Delta of Venus
- Nin’s Diaries: From the Personal to the Universal
- Nin Quotes on Writing, Life, and Love
- Anaïs Nin on Writing to Give Depth and Meaning to Life
- The Early Diary of Anaïs Nin (four volumes)
- The Diary of Anaïs Nin (seven volumes)
- Henry and June
- Delta of Venus
- Little Birds
- In Favor of the Sensitive Man and Other Essays
- Incest: From a Journal of Love
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