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Big Sur’s Henry Miller Library celebrates its 30th Anniversary this Summer!

By July 20, 2011No Comments

Summer festivities include: Fleet Foxes, Woodisist Festival, Explosions in the Sky, John Waters, Gillian Welch, Philip Glass conducts the score to Dracula + more

The story begins in the 1960s, when painter and Miller-confidant Emil White bought a piece of property in the heart of Big Sur, 35 miles south of Carmel. It was here that he built his house, which in 1981 he converted into the Henry Miller Memorial Library, a space devoted to the incalculable artistic legacy of his friend who passed away the previous year. Emil died in 1989 and bequeathed the Library to the Big Sur Land Trust; in 1998 the Library became an independent 501 (c)3 organization. All the while, it stayed true to Emil’s vision, servingas a retreat and cultural center for artists, musicians, and writers from all around the world.

And what of the space itself? And a tiny one at that.

It contains most of Miller’s in-print work, rare books, vinyl, and healthy doses of the old stand-bys: Beats, the classics, Eastern philosophy, and the occasional best-seller about the emotional lives of an animal. The front lawn houses live performances with a capacity of 300 (hence the Spinner article that Arcade Fire played a “backyard show.” Though it’s technically our front yard.)

Well, for starters, it’s not a lending library — it’s a bookstore. The Library exists solely thanks to in-store and online book sales, income from events, and – most importantly – tax-deductible donations, which can be made at (donations are always great – click here to donate!) But we’re slightly getting ahead of ourselves. Something happened in 1993 that, over time, transformed the library from a cozy little bookstore to the beloved sanctuary we’ve all come to love. That would be the ascension of Magnus Toren to role of Library Executive Director.

Magnus is from Sweden, and in addition to circumnavigating the globe in his tiny schooner, has built boats in Seattle, drove a truck out of Fresno, and as a teacher, where he made his students dress up like Hells Angels. (“But,” Toren says, “my favorite job of all time was to be coat-check atthe Opera house in Stockholm.”) As his tenure progressed, events at the Library became more frequent and impressive in their diversity and scope. In 2004, Patti Smith played their Library’s first official show. It was orchestrated by the esteemed Magnus Toren with help from Jesse Goodman.

“What am I doing here?” Smith asked from the stage.

Then a few years later, something else happened. Magnus began partnering with Britt Govea, a Monterey County/ San Francisco-based promoter who goes under the guise (((folkYEAH!))) Presents. It was then that the Library entered its first Golden Age (2005-present): Henry Rollins, DJ Spooky, Band of Horses, Al Jardine, Tallest Man on Earth, Edward Sharpe, Cat Power, Animal Collective, Pegi & Neil Young, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Chris Robinson, The XX, Arcade Fire – as well as Jesse Goodman-produced shows from Laurie Anderson, Yo La Tengo and Marianne Faithful, and the list goes on. But don’t be fooled: the Library is far more than “big” events. It hosts writing workshops, the renowned International Big Sur Short film Screening Series (now in its 6th year), children’s art shows, the Big Big Big Sur Fashion Show, book and poetry readings, and so much more. It also hosts one of the largest archives of Henry Miller’s work in the world and houses a handful of carefully selected interns annual to help digitize and manage it.

Which brings us back to the present. 30th years on, with the help of countless selfless and talented individuals, Magnus has transformed the Henry Miller Memorial Library into one of the most dynamic and unique art spaces in the world.

The Library has been ‘doing’ a lot over the years. ‘Doing’ for the sake of beauty, literature and art, ‘doing’ to nurture the things that arguably makes life worth living; that’s the ‘doing’ we understand. Miller says “to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.” We like to think he’s egging us when doing what we do. And with no sign of slowing down, we happily encourage all intrepid souls – music-lovers, wandering poets, Parisians, restless spirits, aspiring writers, unfulfilled bankers, clove-cigarette smokers burning with wanderlust, Miller disciples, laid-off Silicon Valley yuppies, refugees from bourgeois society, aspiring gurus, and even over-worked lawyers from the Upper West Side – to come join us in the celebration.

“It was sublime to play in the mist under the gigantic trees.One of the most beautiful and spiritual places in the world.” -Laurie Anderson

“I have a feeling that the redwoods, plus the canopy above, creates a kind of acoustic environment that is unparalleled, it’s like being embraced…it is a beautiful place to play.” -Philip Glass

“I’m a big Henry Miller fan so I’d actually been wanting to play at the library for a while and meet those folks. They’ve got a great scene down there of literary-minded folks and music folks and artists and it really is just wonderful. It’s kind of how things should be, where artists in different genres and different mediums all sort of coexist” -Gillian Welch, as told to SFGate, July 6, 2011

2011 Calendar of Events

07/07/11 – Big Sur International Short Film Series
07/08/11 – Author, Colleen Morton Busch: FIRE MONKS: Zen Mind Meets Wildfire at the Gates of Tassajara 07/09/11 – Theatre & Music w/ Rose, Razowsky & Hunicutt
07/14/11 – Big Sur International Short Film Series
07/16/11 – Book signing w/ Andy Couturier
07/21/11 – Big Sur International Short Film Series
07/28/11 – Big Sur International Short Film Series
07/30/11 – Film screening: “My Suicide”
07/31/11 – Woodsist Festival
08/04/11 – Big Sur International Short Film Series
08/10/11 – MGMT
08/11/11 – Big Sur International Short Film Series
08/13/11 – An Evening with John Waters
08/13/11 – Big Sur International Short Film Series
08/25/11 – Big Sur International Short Film Series
08/26/11 – Big Sur International Short Film Series w/ The Dodos
08/31/11 – Poetry Night presented by Philip Glass
09/01/11 – DRACULA: Music by Philip Glass; string quartet & piano
09/05/11 – Explosions in the Sky
09/06/11 – Little Dragon
09/11/11 – Fleet Foxes
09/24/11 – Twin Shadow
10/10/11 – Gang Gang Dance