The Celebrants Arrive

Friday dusk April 28. The moment has come. This evening, Adele notes, we are to have a full moon which represents the energy of things brought to fruition. As the people arrive at Wainwright House we begin to realize that many have come out of a semi-conscious need to be with Anaïs at this particular juncture in their lives. There is a shared hunger that has made them trek here from far corners of the United States.Many person’s lives intertwine in ways that astonish us. For instance, Adele has planned with whom individuals would share a room. Her intuition is praised several times. During the champagne reception she is told by May Garelick, an author of many books for children, that she is rooming with a niece, Elaine Marks, whom she didn’t even know was coming. After further conversation, Adele realizes that May is also a friend of her mother-in-law’s, an artist who had lived in Paris many years. Also our feminist artist friends are put together in a separate carriage house of their own, where they are grateful for the privacy that permits many deep conversations to flourish well into the night. Trew Bennett, a potter from Virginia, and Moira Collins from Illinois share a room and have an intense feeling that, although unknown by name to another, they’ve been friends for a long time.

And so it goes during the reception, as slides of John Pearson’s photographs from his book, Kiss The Joy as it Flies, Adele’s prints from her book on the I Ching flash in counterpoint to the conversation, little by little setting the mood for the drama about to unfold. Bebe Herring, very young, enters the solarium. A painter named Joan Anacreon thinks,

I am delighted with the sight of a young woman with glorious long dark hair, sitting in a marvelous rattan chair that encircled her and regally frames her beauty. She wears a long black dress, and a graceful glowing red shawl carelessly spills from her side down to the floor. Her name is Bebe, and she is a painting!

Right from the beginning people talk to each other with a marked absence of formality and introduction. Georgiana Peacher, an older woman who had attended the event in California earlier that year, is quiet and modest. Everyone is stunned about her undertaking the silk-screening of a novel. My husband brings in from New York Daisy Aldan and Frances Steloff with her shopping bags of books. A table soon overflows with Anaïs’ works and Daisy Aldan’s.

Paintings, sculpture, fantastic capes and masks, pottery are on exhibit. There is great diversity but a unified spirit permeates everything.

Anaïs arrives finally with the psychologist, Beatrice Harris. Both women are cloaked. After refreshing in her room, Anaïs comes down the stairs and into the solarium. Her presence is felt everywhere instantly. She is like the sun, giving light and warmth and nourishment to people, enticing their creative selves to unfold, like flowers in bloom. Throughout the Weekend I observe her listening to others, embracing them, constantly attentive.

Trew Bennett:* . . . I am going to the Celebration! I feel self-conscious and somehow embarrassed by my excitement and thrill…We arrive at Wainwright House, a huge and imposing mansion, overlooking the Sound. Valerie meets me and asks me to arrange my pottery on a front table. I enter the room of people-sounds and find signs of other artist’s work. I see Anaïs Nin, and she carefully remembers who I am from my letters. She has delicate, slim fingers and a lovely, smiling natural shyness, a dedication to inner beauty and expression. Later that evening I say something to her about all the interlocking circles here. She responds, leans forward, and kisses me on the cheek. Her soft French accent gives a sweet richness to her, and she appears like a little girl at times. Her strength is in her vulnerability, – she has the gift of great openness and this she also inspires. I sense though that she is equally private, and that she maintains this privacy in a most artful, elusive, and womanly way … There is a certain breed of people here this weekend, women who have a similar blood type running through their veins.

* This and all following quotations are from her Journal.

Nadine Daily: * …I arrive. The welcome warm gestures, busy organization, my room to freshen. How I wished to lie still, I did not wish too much. Nourishment came as I looked out the white muslin window to that tree at ochered yellow sunset silhouetted.

* Also from her Journal.

Dinner is light, sparkling with bright anticipation. So, afterwards, is the mood as we gather in the library. Adele and I have decided that we should all take a turn at introducing ourselves briefly. With quaking heart I begin by telling the story about how I met Anaïs Nin.

Adele follows tremulously:

My first awareness of Anaïs dates back when my ex-mother-in-law, an artist, lived in Paris in the thirties and knew Henry Miller but never had a friendship with Anaïs. She used to reminisce about Paris and say, ‘There was this woman that Henry used to talk about, named Anaïs Nin. They were very serious but he would never introduce her, keeping her on a distant pedestal.’ I always remembered that, but since I had never heard of Nin, I didn’t know what she was talking about. Years went by and then I read the letters of Lawrence Durrell to Henry Miller, in which he mentions Anaïs. So when the first Diary came, I pounced on it and was overwhelmed. I also wrote letters to Nin which, significantly, I never mailed. When I was a child I had no model with whom to identify. I grew up under very ordinary conditions and always felt crazy because what I was never went along with what I saw around me in society. In the Diary I felt identification with Nin in a different realm. For instance, when I was reading the third Diary, I wanted to print a book by hand, the I Ching book. I had no convictions that it was worth doing, because nobody asked or wanted me to do it, but the Diary taught me that if you don’t passionately believe in yourself, no one else does. I consider that an extremely important event in my life. Also the Diaries enabled me to live out fantasies and this weekend is one of them.

Frances Steloff has been straining to hear every word that is said. Now she speaks in her own firm voice, making everyone laugh over her modesty and practical business sense:

Frances: My first attention was called to Anaïs when I got a letter back in 1939 during the War, which said, ‘We all in Paris on the Left Bank know about The Gotham Book Mart. I have some books that I would like to send which you can sell for me and someday I hope to get to New York.’ And she said that she didn’t want them bombed. I was terribly pleased to think that anyone in Paris on the Left Bank knew about the Gotham Book Mart. So I said, ‘Yes, of course we’ll do our best to sell your books.’ I have felt very guilty all these years thinking that I sold these books at $1.00! First editions of D.H. Lawrence: An Unprofessional Study! Well, by the time I sold them all, I would have paid $25.00 each to get them back. I didn’t realize that this was one of the best studies of D.H. Lawrence that has ever been published. So we corresponded until I think 1940 when Anaïs came and the rest of that story is in the Diary.

Anaïs: Frances Steloff had the only book shop in New York, we were told, where you could browse and where you were not forced to buy a book. You could almost read the book standing up. We knew her as owner of a warm welcoming bookshop like Sylvia Beach’s.

Frances: Anaïs was always so thoughtful and kind and appreciative that she just drew the very best out of everyone.

Kitty Penner: I’m a painter and one of the Connecticut Feminists in the Arts.

Elaine Streitfeld: (emotionally) Driving all the way here I was crying for joy. The thought that keeps coming up in everyone’s conversation is, ‘I have to believe in myself, I have to find myself, I have to express myself and develop myself. ‘ I feel that this weekend is going to be a turning point in my life and that many of you feel this way. We want our souls to be expressed and we want to be like the dream. I hope I can become what I think is inside of me and I hope that it happens to all of you.

Sas Colby: I’m an artist and work mostly in fabric. I made the capes and fantasy masks here.

Suzanne Benton: I’m a metal sculptor. I had heard about Anaïs Nin but I hadn’t read anything of hers. Even so she represented a world that I wanted and the woman’s journey, which certainly as a woman I wanted as my journey.

Evelyn Clark: I am a feminist and a revolutionary political person. At a very low point in my life, the Diary gave me something to hold onto. Later, my feminist group decided to invite Anaïs to speak publicly in Boston. That weekend we interviewed Anaïs also and published the interview in our feminist magazine, “The Second Wave.”

Nancy Williamson: I write and I’m a good friend of Evelyn’s. One day Evelyn told me that I should read these Diaries. I had always read diaries but they were men’s – like Camus and Gide, yet I had always kept diaries. When I read the Diary of Anaïs Nin I was extremely moved like the rest of you were.

Daisy Aldan: Poetry is the core around which my other activities center. I also publish books and I teach creative writing at the New York School of Art and Science. In 1953 I was a rather young outcast teacher, the one whom all of the other teachers gossiped about in school. I introduced a creative writing course and one of my students brought me a copy of Anaïs’ House of Incest, a first edition. He said, ‘I think you’ll be interested in this.’ I opened that book and almost fainted. First of all it had so much to do with my doctorate on “The Influence of French Surrealism on American Literature” and also it contained fantastic poetry in prose. Then I found out that Anaïs had done a book of short stories called Under a Glass Bell which I started teaching to my creative writing class. I was almost thrown out of school for this innovation. I never told Anaïs this. Then I wrote to Anaïs for an interview and found the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, as well as very gracious and generous. She gave me copies of all her books, and I stayed up all night long reading them. I continued introducing her work to my students. I heard her read at the Poetry Center and watched her sell her own books at the counter.

When I started putting out a magazine called Folder and sent her a copy, she wrote me a letter and said, ‘What ever happened to you? Here I gave you all my books and never heard from you again.’ We started a little correspondence in which I told her I was teaching her stories to my classes. She was in despair at the time, saying that the critics were very unkind and there was a lack of recognition in the commercial world. So I told her that she must go on writing because her writing is so great and beautiful that it will find its way.

Anaïs is a tremendous support and inspiration to me in my work. I always felt when she came into New York that some particular light appeared. And when she came to my school to talk to my students, I felt that the walls were falling down. She was a very great inspiration to my students too.

Helen Bidwell: I first read Miss Nin’s work in Mr. Claire’s magazine “Voyages”. I kept talking about Miss Nin so much to Mr. Claire that he said, ‘Would you like to try to review one of the diaries?’ And so I tried to do the fourth Volume which might be coming out in one of the issues. One idea of hers important to me is that things in the past can be used or worked out in the present.

Caroline Emmet: I go to school in Madison, Wisconsin. I read all of Henry Miller’s books and was intrigued by the woman whom he knew and respected. I found a copy of your Diary and it seemed clear that you were my closest friend. I had written diaries since I was about 12, but I never really believed in them. They were for my secrets, my private confessions of hates and miseries. I never held them as valid work so l wrote short stories in the third person, inventing other names for myself and the people I knew. I always thought that that was writing, whereas diaries were an addiction, not to be proud of. When I started reading your Diaries I began to feel that my own diaries were probably the most solid and real things I had written. Your Diaries are a goldmine, a really important part of literature that is just beginning to be admired and respected.

Beatrice Harris: Right now I’m a psychologist: I teach and have a practice. I teach courses that deal with women in terms of their changing roles. I met Anaïs two years ago when she responded to a letter of mine, and I don’t think I can describe all the ways in which her friendship made me grow.