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E. Ethelbert Miller

Academic administrator, author, and poet Eugene Ethelbert Miller was born on November 20, 1950, the youngest of three children, to Egberto Miller, an immigrant from Panama, and Enid Marshall Miller, a homemaker. Born in New York City in the South Bronx, Miller attended Howard University in the fall of 1968. While at Howard University, he studied with Stephen Henderson, one of the foremost literary critics of the Black Arts Movement. In 1972, he graduated from Howard University with a degree in Afro-American Studies, the first member of his family to graduate from college.

In 1974, Miller became Director of the African American Resource Center at Howard University, allowing him to develop his own talents and to nurture emerging African American artists. Also in 1974, he published his first two collections of poetry, Andromeda and The Land of Smiles and the Land of No Smiles. In 1979, Marion Barry, Mayor of Washington, D.C., proclaimed September 28, 1979 “E. Ethelbert Miller Day," and Barry presented Miller with the Mayor’s Art Award for Literature in 1982. In 1994, Miller published the anthology In Search of Color Everywhere, which won the 1994 PEN Oakland Josephine Mile Award. Three years later, he received the Stephen E. Henderson Award for outstanding achievement in literature and poetry from the African American Literature and Culture Society. In 2000, Miller wrote Fathering Words, a memoir which traced his family background and the roots of his art as an African American writer.

Miller is a board member of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), Network of Educators on the Americas and The Writer’s Center. He is a former board member of the Associated Writing Programs and the Humanities Council of Washington and has also worked previously as a core faculty member of the Bennington Writing Seminars at Bennington College. Miller is an advisory editor for the African American Review and an advisory board member of Arts & Letters: Journal of Contemporary Culture. In addition to these responsibilities, Miller has also remained the director of the African American Resource Center at Howard University. He is married to Denise King-Miller, and has two children, Jasmine Simone and Nyere Gibran.

E. Ethelbert Miller was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on July 27, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.216

Sex

Male

Interview Date

7/27/2007

Last Name

Miller

Maker Category
Marital Status

Married

Middle Name

Ethelbert

Schools

Christopher Columbus High School

J.H.S. 120 Paul Lawrence Dunbar

P.S. 39

Search Occupation Category
Speakers Bureau

Yes

Speakers Bureau Availability

Days, Evenings

First Name

E.

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

MIL06

Speakers Bureau Preferred Audience

Adults, College Students, People interested in creative writing.

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

Yes - $1,000 - $5,000

Favorite Season

Summer

Speaker Bureau Notes

Honorarium Specifics: $1000-$1500

Preferred Audience: Adults, College Students, People interested in creative writing.

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

Norway, Home

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Date

11/20/1950

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Mexican Food, Sushi, Cookies

Short Description

Poet and academic administrator E. Ethelbert Miller (1950 - ) was the author of "Andromeda," "The Land of Smiles and the Land of No Smiles," "In Search of Color Everywhere" and "Fathering Words," and the director of the African American Resource Center at Howard University.

Employment

Howard University

African American Review

Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of E. Ethelbert Miller's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - E. Ethelbert Miller lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - E. Ethelbert Miller describes his family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - E. Ethelbert Miller talks about his maternal grandfather

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - E. Ethelbert Miller describes his relationship with his father

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - E. Ethelbert Miller describes his father's family background, pt. 1

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - E. Ethelbert Miller describes his family's background, pt. 2

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - E. Ethelbert Miller describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - E. Ethelbert Miller recalls his early experiences of racial diversity

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - E. Ethelbert Miller remembers learning about the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - E. Ethelbert Miller recalls moving to the St. Mary's Park Houses in the Bronx, New York

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - E. Ethelbert Miller remembers his childhood friends

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - E. Ethelbert Miller talks about his father's Panamanian heritage

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - E. Ethelbert Miller remembers celebrating Christmas

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - E. Ethelbert Miller recalls celebrating Thanksgiving and Halloween

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - E. Ethelbert Miller describes the racial demographics of the South Bronx in New York

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - E. Ethelbert Miller describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - E, Ethelbert Miller describes the gang activity in the South Bronx

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - E. Ethelbert Miller remembers Robert Skinner

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - E. Ethelbert Miller talks about the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - E. Ethelbert Miller remembers Lewis H. Michaux

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - E. Ethelbert Miller recalls his early interest in reading

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - E. Ethelbert Miller remembers Minister Louis Farrakhan

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - E. Ethelbert Miller recalls the assassinations of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - E. Ethelbert Miller recalls his early experiences of religion

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - E. Ethelbert Miller talks about his family's spirituality

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - E. Ethelbert Miller recalls lessons from his parents

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - E. Ethelbert Miller recalls his first protest at Howard University

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - E. Ethelbert Miller recalls the popular music of his youth

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - E. Ethelbert Miller recalls his introduction to poetry

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - E. Ethelbert Miller describes his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - E. Ethelbert Miller talks about his video oral history project

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - E. Ethelbert Miller remembers Stephen E. Henderson

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - E. Ethelbert Miller recalls meeting his first wife

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - E. Ethelbert Miller recalls his interest in Sufi mysticism

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - E. Ethelbert Miller describes the Black Arts Movement at Howard University

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - E. Ethelbert Miller remembers Howard University President James E. Cheek

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - E. Ethelbert Miller describes the Institute for Arts and Humanities at Howard University

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - E. Ethelbert Miller talks about Stephen E. Henderson's leadership

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - E. Ethelbert Miller remembers C.L.R. James

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - E. Ethelbert Miller talks about the writers of the Black Arts Movement

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - E. Ethelbert Miller describes the black aesthetic

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - E. Ethelbert Miller talks about literary criticism

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - E. Ethelbert Miller reflects upon the Black Arts Movement

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - E. Ethelbert Miller remembers James Baldwin

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - E. Ethelbert Miller talks about his mentors

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - E. Ethelbert Miller remembers Toni Morrison

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - E. Ethelbert Miller describes his early creative influences

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - E. Ethelbert Miller talks about his early publications

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - E. Ethelbert Miller recalls working at the Institute for Arts and Humanities in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - E. Ethelbert Miller describes the women's movement at Howard University

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - E. Ethelbert Miller remembers June Jordan

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - E. Ethelbert Miller talks about contemporary African American literature

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - E. Ethelbert Miller remembers Mayor Marion Barry

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - E. Ethelbert Miller remembers Mayor Sharon Pratt

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - E. Ethelbert Miller remembers his first marriage

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - E. Ethelbert Miller talks about his family

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - E. Ethelbert Miller remembers travelling to Africa

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - E. Ethelbert Miller talks about his collections of poetry

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - E. Ethelbert Miller remembers the death of his brother, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - E. Ethelbert Miller remembers the death of his brother, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - E. Ethelbert Miller reflects upon writing about trauma

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - E. Ethelbert Miller talks about his sources of inspiration

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - E. Ethelbert Miller talks about his writings

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - E. Ethelbert Miller reflects upon his career

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - E. Ethelbert Miller talks about his poems

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - E. Ethelbert Miller describes his international travels

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - E. Ethelbert Miller recalls visiting Norway

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - E. Ethelbert Miller describes his experiences in Iraq

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - E. Ethelbert Miller describes the impact of the black aesthetic

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - E. Ethelbert Miller shares a message to future generations

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - E. Ethelbert Miller talks about the importance of apprenticeships

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - E. Ethelbert Miller talks about constructive criticism

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - E. Ethelbert Miller reflects upon his career at Howard University

Tape: 7 Story: 10 - E. Ethelbert Miller reflects upon the legacy of Howard University

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - E. Ethelbert Miller narrates his photographs, pt. 1

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - E. Ethelbert Miller narrates his photographs, pt. 2

DASession

1$1

DATape

4$5

DAStory

3$3

DATitle
E. Ethelbert Miller describes the Institute for Arts and Humanities at Howard University
E. Ethelbert Miller remembers Toni Morrison
Transcript
Let's look at Cheek [James E. Cheek], and this is very important. One thing that Cheek did as a new president of Howard University [Washington, D.C.] is something that when I go back and look at it in a historical context, it makes no sense, but it is really revolutionary. Cheek hires the sociologist, Andrew Billingsley to be the vice president of academic affairs. Okay, if you today go to the library and pull anything by Andrew Billingsley, like about the black family, you'll say, "Whoa, this is some radical stuff, you know." This is a guy who is part of the black world, you know; this guy--wow. Now, what did Billingsley do? When Billingsley took over as the vice president of academic affairs, it's like Henry Kissinger being the national security advisor for the secretary of state. Billingsley, even though he may not have articulated it, some of the things that the radical students wanted to do in terms of Howard University being a black university, Billingsley decided to set that in motion. And so, what does Billingsley do? Billingsley does what you would see Henry Louis Gates [HistoryMaker Henry Louis "Skip" Gates, Jr.] doing today. Billingsley did this as vice president of academic affairs. If you were anywhere as a top scholar, you would be at Howard. So, you look at what Billingsley did. Robert Staples, [HistoryMaker] Joyce Ladner, Stephen Henderson [Stephen E. Henderson], John Killens [John Oliver Killens]--he brought all these people to Howard. Now, he came up with a very radical idea. He brings all these great people together, but he realized that, okay, they're going to be in departments. Departments have limitations, okay. So what Billingsley did, he created in between these departments these various like think tanks, one issued for arts and humanities. He saw these units as being able to bring the various departments together, and also have a community outreach, you see. That is so far out, so radical, that he could get all these people here, okay. Now, he created the Institute for Arts and Humanities [Howard University, Washington, D.C.]. Now, who do we look at who's high on the list to become head of the Institute of Arts and Humanities? Houston Baker [Houston A. Baker, Jr.], who is one of the people I mentioned. Because what happened, they needed to have this sort of radical new unit. And keep in mind this unit, the Institute of Arts and Humanities, got big funding for the Mellon Foundation [Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, New York, New York]. See, this is the early '70s [1970s]. And what happens is that here now we have a unit created to really document and preserve African American culture at Howard. Who's going to be in charge of that? See, the national institute--I mean we've seen those various battles. So, out of this, you look at people like Houston Baker, people who could bridge the community. And--$$And Houston Baker, who's coming out of UCLA [University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California] with his Ph.D. went to Howard undergrad?$$Right, right. He had--right, so it's not difficult to pull people back, okay. But what happened, we find out that in terms of the president, people were happy with was Stephen Henderson, who also had been brought from, out of Atlanta [Georgia], okay. And keep in mind what's important there is that Henderson and also the historian, [HistoryMaker] Vincent Harding, okay, were key in terms of two intellectuals, really intellectuals, who asked themselves a very important question after 1968. And that is, here is King's [Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.] assassination. How do we keep his life and his--what he's doing--alive? You see, how do we institutionalize this? And so they raised some serious, serious questions as black intellectuals in 1968. Now, some people will say when you look at the Institute of the Black World [Atlanta, Georgia], it's extremely radical. Some of those people got run out of Atlanta, you know (laughter). Because I mean the Institute of the Black World, the people coming through there would be people like [HistoryMaker] Howard Dodson at the Schomburg [Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York, New York]; Walter Rodney would come through there; C.L.R. James, all these fascinating names, okay. And so when you see Billingsley coming to Howard, and now he has an institution behind him, he pretty much recreates the Institute for the Black World on Howard's campus.$You were talking about Toni Morrison.$$Um-hm, right. I remember I called Quincy Troupe up and, you know, he wasn't there, and I was talking to this woman on the phone. And I think maybe when I did reach him, he said, you know, I said, "Oh, a woman was there." And it actually was Toni Morrison, and I didn't realize that's who it was. But I remember Ahmos Zu-Bolton and I went up to New York [New York]. This is around '74 [1974], '75 [1975], to a book party. They were releasing the work of Henry Dumas, and Ahmos was pretty excited, because this was his first time going to New York. And so, you know, it was just, we were young writers, you know. We went to New York in a van. And so we get to the reception where the book party's going to be, and we're there early you know. We look around, and this woman comes in and says, tells us to start moving chairs and stuff. We got pissed off, man. We were like, "What do you mean, move the chairs? We're here for the book party." It was Toni Morrison, you know. (Laughter) We didn't know. But she's got us working and stuff. You know, because we felt, you know, we were writers, and then we show up early and now we're like, you know, we might as well be serving drinks and stuff. So, we were highly insulted. But, you know--$$What year is this?$$This was whenever the play, 'Play Ebony, Play Ivory' [Henry Dumas] was you know, because Toni Morrison has a lot to do with the reprinting of Henry Dumas's work. So it must have been like around '74 [1974] or '75 [1975]. And so, you know, we're young writers up in New York and stuff. And I'll always remember that. That was my first time I met Toni Morrison. And also at that time, at that book party for Henry Dumas's work, if somebody had dropped a bomb on that building, it would wiped out African American culture. I mean, I mean anyone that you could think of--and see, me and Ahmos, we got there early. So as people came in, you know, we were like--oh, there was [HistoryMaker] Melvin Van Peebles, Sun Ra, [HistoryMaker] Angela Davis, Giovanni [HistoryMaker Nikki Giovanni]. I mean everybody was there, you know. And then what made it very memorable for me is that prior to me coming to New York, Dr. Henderson [Stephen E. Henderson] became fascinated, you know, by this poetry of this particular woman at that time. And I was reading the poetry, and I don't get it, you know. But Henderson said, "This is the real stuff." It's June Jordan. And so I remember at that book party, you know, I saw her from across the room. So I went across the room, and introduced myself, you know. And like that, then we were invited to Washington [D.C.] a little later after that. But it was the first time I had met her. And so, you know, what happened years later, Toni Morrison would be June's editor for the book, 'Things I do in the Dark,' [June Jordan]. And I remember us battling over that, because you know, Toni Morrison was the key editor at Random House [Random House Inc.; Penguin Random House]. But June's book, 'Things I do in the Dark,' if you look at the copy that came out, it had, you know, a dark cover, and you had this hand reaching out, you know, against this nude body, you know, 'Things I do in the Dark.' And that's what Random House did to her book. But what June meant about 'Things I do in the Dark,' was when she would wake up in the middle of the night to write. And you know how you grope for your glasses, like things I do in the dark? So it had that sort of searching, sort of--a completely different understandings. So, we sort of laughed at that.