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Rumors Were True. I am Ill with Cancer • An Unpublished Letter from Anais Nin in 1975

Brett Rawson


At the age of 22, right after graduation from a university in 1974, I embarked on a solo journey to Japan with only a backpack and a travel guide to my name.  Not knowing a word of Japanese beforehand nor many of the customs for that matter, I had much to learn. How do you spell naïve?

Hoping to have positive interactions with the culture, I enrolled in a daily Japanese language class at a university. Often spending hours studying grammar & kanji, I needed a break from that cocoon. I spent many hours at the Kinokuniya bookstore in Tokyo after class. 

On one of those outings, I discovered Anais Nin or maybe she discovered me because it seemed like one of her books reached out to me. I was drawn to a book called Collages (1964) & began reading it. Before long, I was sitting on the floor engrossed in the book. I had never read any literature before that was so powerfully surrealistic and poetic. There didn’t seem to be a plot line, but the words moved forward with their own lyricism and flow. After that, I started reading her diaries, and found that her words gave me a community to identify with. Her words seemed to give a voice to whomever read them. Her diaries were a voyage of self-discovery, the very journey that I was on.

Given the way she wrote, I felt that she would welcome words from her readers. I didn’t have an address for her, so I wrote to her publishers. Weeks later, I received a typewritten letter from Anna Balakian stating that Anais had been very ill from battling cancer. However she was recovering and Anna thought Anais would enjoy hearing from me, so she gave me her Los Angeles address. 

I wrote Anais a letter to tell her how much her writing meant to me. Here was a voice openly expressing women’s issues through writing. Also, it was so poetic, lyrical and even surreal in some of the stories. I also told her of my love of Japan and my desire to remain in the country as long as possible. I was at the end of my year-long journey there which was actually only planned to be a 3 month stay.

Much to my surprise and utter delight, Anais Nin wrote me this letter. I was so touched that she would take the time to acknowledge my letter and beyond that to try to help me find a job in Japan. I bought her some Japanese writing paper as she too wrote of her affection for the country. She sent me a very sincere thank-you postcard.

A transcription of the letter is below.

May 9, 1975


Dear Kimberly: My friends did not give you my address because they know it makes me sad not to answer a letter. Rumors were true. I am ill with cancer since December and only recovering recently and am very weak. I have been forbidden lectures and correspondence. But as you wrote of wanting to stay in Japan (which I love and visited in 1966) I wanted to give you the address of my translator (of Novel of the Future and Diary 1) who teaches at a university and might be of help.

And American friends teaching me – Catherine Broderick, Kobe College, Graduate Division 4-1 OKAYADANA  NISHINOMIYA  KOBE. But do not be concerned. I am taking chemotherapy for several months and the Doctor believes I will get well. I work just a little, a few pages a day on Vol 6. I’m just beginning to be known in Japan. Will address of my publishers help? 

I should not be writing but your letter touched me.