Miller, Adam David 1922-

views updated

Miller, Adam David 1922-


Born October 8, 1922, in St. George, SC; married Elise Peeples. Ethnicity: "African American." Education: University of California at Berkeley, B.A., M.A., 1953, and postgraduate work in drama.


Home and office—Adam David Miller, P.O. Box 162, Berkeley, CA 94701-0162. E-mail—[email protected].


Poet and educator. San Francisco State College (now San Francisco State University), San Francisco, CA, instructor, 1962-67, Tuskegee Institute, 1964; Laney College, Oakland, CA, English instructor, 1967-88; University of California, Berkeley, instructor, 1987-91. Formerly taught in secondary schools in Vallejo and Oakland, CA; taught University of California extension courses; Aldridge Players/West, cofounder, director, actor, and chair of the board of directors, 1962-67; Mina Press, cofounder, 1981; Eshu House Publishing, founder, 1996; producer for San Francisco Bay Area public television and radio for over thirty years. Military service: United States Navy, 1942-46.


African Literature Association (founding member), College Language Association (life member), National Writers Union.


California Teachers Association Award for best anthology, 1970, for Dices or Black Bones; National Endowment Fellow, 1973-74; Ina Coolbrith Poetry Circle Award, 1993, for "The Bodsnatchers," awards also in 1995 and 1996; Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award, Hilton-Long Poetry Foundation, 1994, for Forever Afternoon. National Endowment for the Humanities fellow, West Africa, 1973-74; invited fellow, Bay Area Writing Project, 1978, 1994.


(Editor) Dices or Black Bones, Houghton Mifflin Company (Boston, MA), 1970.

(Compiled, edited, and prepared for publication, with Robbin Henderson and Pamela Fabry) Ethnic Notions: Black Images in the White Mind; an Exhibition of Afro-American Stereotype and Caricature from the Collection of Janette Faulkner: September 12-November 4, 1982, Berkeley Art Center (Berkeley, CA), 1982.

Out of the Swamps the Birds Fly, produced by Black Repertory Group, Berkeley, CA, 1986.

Neighborhood and Other Poems, Mina Press (Berkeley, CA), 1993.

Forever Afternoon: Poems, Michigan State University Press (East Lansing, MI), 1994.

Apocalypse Is My Garden: Poems, Eshu House Publishing (Berkeley, CA), 1997.

(Editor and compiler) Ethnic Notions: Black Images in the White Mind; an Exhibition of Racist Stereotype and Caricature from the Collection of Janette Faulkner: September 10-November 12, 2000, Berkeley Art Center (Berkeley, CA), 2000.

Land Between: New and Selected Poems, Eshu House Publishing (Berkeley, CA), 2000.

Ticket to Exile: A Memoir, Heyday Books (Berkeley, CA), 2007.

Founding editor of the University of California Graduate Student Journal and Good News, the Laney College faculty magazine. Contributor to periodicals, including Black Scholar, Black Aesthetic, Intermedium, Oakland Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, Daily Californian, California Voice, Berkeley Post, and Drama Review.


Poet Adam David Miller was born in St. George, South Carolina, on October 8, 1922. He grew up in nearby Orangeburg where, despite having moved over eleven times because there was no money to pay the landlord, he managed to graduate from high school with honors. There was no money for college, but World War II had begun, so he joined the United States Navy, serving from 1942 to 1946, and was able to attend college on the G.I. Bill after the war. He received an M.A. in English from the University of California at Berkeley in 1953 and completed another postgraduate program in drama.

Miller taught English at Laney College in Oakland, California, and at University of California at Berkeley. In the 1960s he helped found the Aldridge Players/ West, a San Francisco-based African American theater group. He also started Mina Press to publish works about cultural issues, and worked with San Francisco Bay Area public radio and television networks to create programs with cultural themes, not only about African Americans but also Norwegian and Nisei art and writing, as well as the cultural history of the United States.

An avid and consistent supporter of African American artists and other writers, Miller published the acclaimed anthology of African American poets Dices or Black Bones in 1970. It won the California Teachers Association Award for best anthology that year and led to a tour in West Africa as a National Endowment Fellow in 1973 and 1974.

Forever Afternoon: Poems was Miller's second collection of poetry, published soon after the chapbook Neighborhood and Other Poems. Including narrative, dramatic, and meditative pieces, Forever Afternoon was hailed for its sensitivity, artistry, insightfulness, and clarity. Prior to its 1994 publication, it won the first Naomi Long Madgett Award in 1993, sponsored by the Hilton-Long Poetry Foundation, for excellence in a manuscript by an African American poet.

Miller recalls his difficult childhood and youth in Ticket to Exile: A Memoir, the first part of his biography. He grew up in poverty so extreme that his parents supplemented their diet with rats, and his sister died at the age of twelve from rheumatic fever. He was nonetheless a good student and avid reader, and he graduated from high school with honors, but because there was no money for college, he went to work in a shoe repair shop. He managed to save enough money to buy a typewriter, and in 1942, when he was just nineteen, he typed a note saying, "I would like to get to know you better," and sent it to a white girl he liked who worked around the corner. The next day he was arrested and sent to jail for attempted rape.

Miller opens Ticket to Exile with an account of this incident, then flashes back to earlier days, meditating and commenting on the ordinary racism, suspicion, and anger common to both black and white people in Southern society and the restrictions these feelings and beliefs placed on his life. Each chapter includes a poem inspired by an incident or feeling aroused by a particular situation or event, such as the neighbor who bought Miller a pair of shoes for seventy-five cents one winter after having observed him walking to school barefoot.

Critics were both touched and outraged by Miller's experiences and moved by his words. In her review for Booklist, Vanessa Bush called Miller's stories "eloquent in their simplicity and power to convey life in the pre-civil rights South." The critic for Kirkus Reviews praised Miller's writing style: "Its matter-of-factness and homely detail make Miller's memoir a powerful reminder of what ‘separate but equal’ really meant in the days before the Civil Rights Act." Sandip Roy, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, appreciated Miller's poetic language, saying that Ticket to Exile "tells a complicated story of race, class and a young man outgrowing his small town with profound simplicity…. Miller is a chronicler who uses unadorned language but leaves indelible images." L.W. Milam compared Ticket to Exile to Richard Wright's Black Boy in his review for RALPH: The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and the Humanities. He concluded: "As studies in American racial culture, both should be read. As works of art, both are astonishing."



Booklist, October 15, 2007, Vanessa Bush, review of Ticket to Exile: A Memoir, p. 21.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, May, 1995, M. Gillan, review of Forever Afternoon: Poems, p. 1450.

Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2007, review of Ticket to Exile.


Downtown Berkeley Jazz Festival Web site, (August 3, 2008), profile of author.

Michigan State University Press Web site, (August 3, 2008), review of Forever Afternoon.

RALPH: The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and the Humanities, (August 12, 2008), L.W. Milam, review of Ticket to Exile.

San Francisco Chronicle Online, (November 11, 2007), Sandip Roy, "Adam David Miller's Memoir a Coming-of-Age in the South."