Driggs Avenue: Henry Miller’s “early paradise”

“It’s strange what a little boy remembers of his early life,” wrote Henry Miller in a 1971 New York Times essay, nine years before the death of the author of Tropic of Cancer and other great 20th century novels.

Until age nine, Miller lived with his family (at left) at 662 Driggs Avenue (below) in Williamsburg. His memories of what he deemed his “sojourn in paradise” offer fascinating glimpses of life through a kid’s eyes in 1890s Brooklyn.

“Diagonally opposite us was Fillmore Place, just one block long, which was my favorite street and which I can still see vividly if I close my eyes.”

“At the Driggs Avenue end of this street was a saloon and at the other end a kindergarten. I remember the saloon because as a child I was often sent to get a pitcher of beer at the side entrance.”

“A few doors from our house were the shanties, two or three decrepit buildings right out of a Dickens novel. In one of them was a candy store owned by two spinsters called the Meinken Sisters.”

No street was as sensual as Grand Street, says Miller, thanks to Reynolds Bakery.

“The back of the bakery gave out on North First Street, where we often played cat, or shimmy as we called it then, and the aroma of fresh baked bread, crullers and donuts assailed our nostrils day in and day out.”

“Continuing south on Driggs Avenue one came to Broadway where the elevated ran. Beyond that lay the aristocratic Bedford section. Immediately beyond Broadway was the Fountain, where on Sunday the bicycle riders gathered to ride to Prospect Park and Coney Island.”

“Years later, when I took up quarters in Paris, in the poor districts especially, I often ran across streets which reminded me of that strange territory surrounding Metropolitan Avenue.”

This blog devoted to Henry Miller covers more ground in the Times article, which is behind a paywall.

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2 Responses to “Driggs Avenue: Henry Miller’s “early paradise””

  1. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    Henry Miller was the first writer I read where I said to myself, “Hey, I can do that!” In the 60s and 70s I tore through his books, all the Tropics and others, as if I was feasting on manna from heaven (and many of his books still remain on my shelves). And with Miller that’s exactly what I was doing, his words were food of the Gods. He lived in California at the time, I wrote him but never got an answer, which is good I wrote my stories even more. I believe that every story I have written was influenced by Henry Miller. Here was a wise-ass street kid going through a meaningless life but now he gave a focus to what I was doing, learning to be a writer. I’m sure that many writers have the same story to tell. Henry Miller he is the best!

  2. Anca Szilagyi Says:

    Anca Szilagyi reblogged this on Anca Szilagyi and commented: This weekend I picked up a copy of Henry Miller’s Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch. Looking forward to dig into that one. In the meantime, here’s a lovely post about Miller’s childhood in Brooklyn. I do wonder how one played “cat” or “shimmy”!

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