Daughter of John D. and Mary McKenzie Miner
Journalist, novelist, essayist, editor, and critic—Valerie Miner could be any one of her main characters. They are all a type of everywoman—Liz, Susan, Beth, Polly, Teddy, Anne, Gerry—who mirror not only Miner's life, but the life and struggle of many women. Educated at the University of California at Berkeley (B.A. 1969) where she also earned a graduate degree in journalism (M.A. 1970), Miner's accomplishments include a founding membership in the National Feminist Writers Guild, a position on the board of directors of Women Against Violence in Pornography and Media, a lengthy teaching career including many at UC-Berkeley, and a score of awards including the PEN Syndicated Fiction Award.
Miner's dedication to political causes, especially feminism, is reflected in her fiction as well as her career. Her characters are fiercely independent, fiercely political and, for the most part, fiercely alone. And these women need to be ferocious, for they must weather wars, terrorism, exile, imprisonment, marriage, divorce, and complex relationships, both heterosexual and lesbian. Each situation, each relationship is approached with hope and trepidation. Sometimes, all the women are left with is their hope and fear; but the perseverance to change their world survives.
Perseverance is indeed the legacy left to Liz and Beth, daughters of the Irish-born twin sisters, Polly and Gerry, in Blood Sisters: An Examination of Conscience (1981). Liz and Beth, although only cousins, are mirror images of each other; their twinning going beyond biological ties is established in blood, the bloodshed from IRA bombings in England. War of a different kind challenges the perseverance of the bonds of women in All Good Women (1987). A desire for careers and independence is what brings Teddy, Ann, Moira, and Wanda together in the first place. But the endurance not only of their friendship but also of their dreams is tested by U.S. involvement in World War II and the internment of Wanda, a Japanese-American. Ann cannot sit still with the knowledge that some of her family in Europe may be the victims of concentration camps and sets off to work with war orphans in London. Teddy and Moira are left to handle their own personal struggles with the war effort at home, in addition to the realization and consummation of their feelings for each other. Miner takes on a whole host of social issues aside from those related to war: the lesbian lifestyle, pregnancy and birth outside of marriage, women living on their own and working in male-dominated jobs, sexual harassment. The bond of the four women is what sustains them all, much as the bond of blood and kin sustains Liz, Polly, and Beth, despite the death of Gerry and the imprisonment of Beth.
Winter's Edge (1984) is somewhat of a departure from the above novels in that the focus is on a couple—two elderly women, Chrissie and Margaret—whose bond survives Margaret's flirtations with men, Chrissie's jealousy, Margaret's passiveness, and Chrissie's activism. The reader sees the world of San Francisco, replete with dirty politics, greedy developers, and bombings, through the eyes of each woman. If the novel reads like a mystery for senior citizens, perhaps Miner's previously published novel, Murder in the English Department (1982), is responsible for her further experimentation with the genre. The title conjures up an old-fashioned scholarly atmosphere, but the reality of the setting and plot focuses on violence, not only physical, but the emotional kind that can undermine reputation and self-confidence. The reader follows Nan Weaver as she is implicated in the murder of a university colleague, and is treated to a good dose of examples of sexual harassment and tenure woes.
In another kind of examination of the academic world, Competition: A Feminist Taboo (1987), coedited with Helen Longino, Miner explores the one area of female experience that is steeped in denial. Aimed specifically at academia, the collection of essays examines what happens to sisterhood in atmospheres dictating rivalry. Rumors from the Cauldron: Selected Essays, Reviews, and Reportage (1992) looks back on Miner's career, pulling together various writings in order to report on her own development as a writer and a woman. As in Competition, she examines sisterhood and its endurance in the face of career and art, but in Tales rivalry cedes to sisterhood in the last section of the book where Miner reviews the work of other women writers, taking care to spotlight those who are lesser known. It is clear from this book that, indeed, Miner has been on an odyssey of her own and has more than merely survived.
Miner's seventh work of fiction, A Walking Fire: A Novel (1994), is based on Shakespeare's King Lear, told from Cordelia's perspective. The novel follows the life of Cora with short clips jumping between her college days in the late 1960s, when she was involved with protesting the Vietnam Conflict, and 1988 when she returns from Canada to care for her ailing father. Miner focuses on family relationships through a lens of liberal political commentary. Range of Light (1998) is Miner's latest novel, again with a strong undercurrent of liberal feminist agenda. The book is set in the High Sierras, where two women meet to hike for a 25-year reunion from their elementary school friendship. One woman is a lesbian; the other heterosexual. The book is less successful, as the Kirkus Review commented that "Miner's obvious feminist agenda adds unwelcome weight to an already overly portentous tale."
Miner continues to teach at the University of Minnesota in the Department of English, and frequently travels for speaking engagements. She was awarded the Fulbright Senior Scholar Award to India for 2000.
Her Own Woman (with M. Kostash et al., 1975). Tales I Tell My Mother (with Z. Fairbairns et al., 1978). More Tales I Tell My Mother (1987). Trespassing and Other Stories (1989). Movement, A Novel in Stories (1982). Songs My Mother Taught Me: Stories, Plays, and Memoir (editor, 1994).
CA (1981, 1999). CLC (1986). FC (1990).
KR (15 May 1994, 1 March 1988). New Statesman (24 July 1981). NYTBR (19 Jan. 1986, 22 Aug. 1987). PW (9 July 1982, 27 Sept. 1985, 11 Sept. 1987, 7 Aug. 1987, 8 Aug. 1986). TLS (17 July 1981, 5 Nov. 1982, 27 July 1984, 12 July 1989). WRB (April 1986, Dec. 1986, Nov. 1987, March 1988).
"Valerie Miner," available online at: http://english.cla.umn.edu/Faculty/Miner/Miner.htm, University of Minnesota (9 June 1999).
UPDATED BY CARRIE SNYDER