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E. Ethelbert Miller

(b. 1950)


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(b. 1950), poet, essayist, critic, educator, and broadcast journalist.

Eugene Ethelbert Miller was born in New York City to West Indian immigrant parents. He attended a predominantly Italian American and Jewish high school in the Bronx. These early cultural influences contribute to the thematic scheme of much of his poetry. Before obtaining a BA in African American Studies from Howard University, Miller had intended to complete a degree in history and begin a career in law. It was during the time Miller reassessed his professional goals that the poetry and song of the 1960s and the Black Arts movement were in full effect and would help him develop his voice.

Miller is a living cultural and literary resource. Since 1974, as director of the African American Studies Resource Center at Howard University, he has maintained an extensive, rare collection of African American literature and history of which he has an amazingly personal knowledge. Numerous young writers continue to benefit from Miller's commitment to cultivating the arts in the District of Columbia. He is founder and director of the Ascension Poetry Series, one of the oldest series in Washington, D.C. Through this series of readings and professional workshops, Miller has introduced the community to the undiscovered talents of many now renowned writers. Miller's insistence that the community respond to and provide encouragement for fresh and diverse new artists is evidenced in the volumes he has edited: Synergy D.C. Anthology (1975), Women Surviving Massacres and Men (1977), and In Search of Color Everywhere (1994).

Along with his informal interpersonal cultivation of advice, ideas, and information, Miller extends himself to academic and policy-making venues. As he expressed in a 1987 interview with the Washington Post, Miller is dedicated to involving himself in every aspect of writing. He is an associate faculty member at Bennington College, Bennington, Vermont; a visiting professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; a member of the board of the National Writers Union and Associated Writing Programs; and senior editor of African American Review and Washington Review.

Miller is essentially a cultural critic whose vision reaches beyond race to examine the human condition. Miller's work captures the poetic struggle of day-to-day living: love, family, manhood, the liberation of women, the politics of protest and inclusion. The lines are quiet and succinct, much like the quickness and quietness that disguise the profundity of daily events. In “Only Language Can Hold Us Together,”Miller identifies with the politics involved in a black woman's struggle for beauty, saying she did not understand why no one recognized the “beauty of her hair.”In “The Kid,”the poet unveils the hidden core beneath a comfortable mask, telling about how the subject talks candidly about his father “sometimes when we ain't talking about baseball.”

Miller's collections attest to his twenty-year commitment to the continuing tradition of African American literature: The Land of Smiles and the Land of No Smiles (1974), Andromeda (1974), The Migrant Worker (1978), Season of Hunger/Cry of Rain: Poems 1975–1980 (1982), Where Are the Love Poems for Dictators? (1986), First Light: New and Selected Poems (1993), and How We Sleep on the Nights We Don't Make Love (1996). In recognition of his talent, Miller has won the O. B. Hardison, Jr., Award for imaginative art and teaching (1995), the Columbia Merit Award (1993), the Public Humanities Award from the D. C. Community Council (1988), and the Mayor's Art Award for Literature (1982).

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Subjects: Literature.


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