Tuesday, September 20, 2005

"My whole life changed on Kosciuszko Street"

Above: Kosciuszko Street Station (street at left), Henry Miller (centre) and Malvin Wald.

I've recently discovered a great little anecdote involving Henry Miller. It's a short piece called Living History:Life on Kosciuszko Street, written by Malvin Wald, a TV and film writer (he wrote The Naked City in 1948.) The story is made available on-line by Creative Screenwriting magazine.

In it, Wald tells of being at a party in L.A. during the 1970's, at which Henry Miller was to attend. Miller showed up, but was grumpy and uninterested in dishing out advice to the young writers who approached him (his only advice: "Live!"). Wald desribes Miller as "seated in an easy chair, grim-faced, his bald head giving him the appearance of a stone Buddha."

Finally, Wald decided to break the ice with Miller. He used a common link: they both grew up in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. ""Mr. Miller," began Wald, "how long since you've been on Kosciuszko Street?" Miller perked up: the very origin of his love of literature had been touched upon.

"Y'know," he said reflectively, "as a matter of fact, my whole life changed on Kosciuszko Street. Must have been sixty years ago when I was just a dumb kid. I used to read those crime paperbacks. I think they were called 'penny dreadfuls.' They were cops-and-robbers stories like the comic books the kids read today." He rubbed his chin and was thoughtful for a moment. We all waited respectfully for him to finish.

"Well, I was walking along Kosciuszko Street, when I met this guy who was holding a book and he asked me if I would like to read a story called 'Crime and Punishment' by a guy named Dostoevsky. I figured it was one of those cheap thrillers. So I took the book home."

"I couldn't believe what I had read. This was real writing. This was literature. I started to read seriously, for the first time in my life, and that led to my going to Paris to become a professional writer. So in a way, you can say my life as a writer started on Kosciuszko Street."

I apologize to Malvin Wald for quoting so liberally from his story; but I hope this draws attention to the full anecdote, which I hope you'll read.

The above photo of Kosciuszko Street was taken by Jeremiah Cox, from the website subwaynut.com.
The Miller photo excerpt is from a Michael Brennan photograph (from The Paris Review, I think).
The Wald photo excerpt is uncredited on the Creative Screenwriting website.

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