US novelist, whose works achieved notoriety for their use of sexually explicit and obscene language.
Born and brought up in Brooklyn, Miller studied very briefly at City College of New York and then had various jobs in New York. He determined in 1924 to devote himself to writing and in 1930 moved to Paris, where he lived until 1940. On returning to America, he toured the country and published a highly critical account of what he found, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare (1945). He settled in Big Sur, California.
Although classed as fiction, Miller's writing is autobiographical. Incidents may be selected, arranged, and otherwise fictionalized, but the identity of the first-person narrator is never in doubt. Tropic of Cancer (1934) deals with Miller's life in Paris and is distinguished by a bawdy sense of humour, a frank depiction of sex, and a use of obscenities as they are actually used, especially in all-male company. These qualities prevented US publication of the book until 1961, while assuring an enormous underground readership. Black Spring (1936; US edition, 1963) is a collection of pieces intended as a companion to Tropic of Cancer, and Tropic of Capricorn (1939; US edition, 1962) deals with Miller's youth in New York. The Colossus of Maroussi (1941) records a visit to Greece in 1939, The Time of the Assassins (1956) is a critical work on Rimbaud, and Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch (1958) concerns Miller's life in Big Sur. A trilogy of novels written in California and entitled The Rosy Crucifixion (Sexus, 1945; Plexus, 1949; Nexus, 1960) suggests an American equivalent to the early Paris books, but it lacks the comic sense that enlivens and redeems Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. Miller published several volumes of nonfiction as well as collections of correspondence with Lawrence Durrell (1962) and Anaïs Nin (1965).