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E. Ethelbert Miller

His book of poetry, How We Sleep on the Nights We Don’t Make Love, was awarded the Independent Publisher Book Award in 2005

Pictured: E. Ethelbert Miller

Photo by Justin D. Knight

E. Ethelbert Miller Prolific Writer and Tireless Mentor
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E. Ethelbert Miller: Prolific Writer and Tireless Mentor
By Jihan Asher

Before he became the person the Washington Post called “the most influential person” in the area’s arts community, E. Ethelbert Miller was a typical student. In his critically acclaimed memoir, Fathering Words, he speaks candidly about his days as an undergraduate at Howard University, from the frustrations of dorm life and failing economics class to his decision to change his major and become a writer.

It’s a decision he has stuck with through the years and one that has brought him critical acclaim, peer recognition and personal fulfillment as the author of 10 books, most of them anthologies. Miller’s poetry has also been included in numerous anthologies, notably The Oxford Anthology of African-American Poetry and the Maryland Millennial Anthology, and his poem, “We Embrace,” is engraved in stone outside of the DuPont Circle metro station in the heart of Washington, D.C.

His work, naturally, has not gone unrecognized. He has received numerous honors and awards including an honorary doctorate of literature from Emory & Henry College, which he says is one of his proudest professional moments; the O.B. Hardison Jr. Poetry Prize in 1995; and the Stephen Henderson Poetry Award by the African American Literature and Culture Society in 1997. His book of poetry, How We Sleep on the Nights We Don’t Make Love, was awarded the Independent Publisher Book Award in 2005.

Currently, Miller is preparing to travel to Abu Dhabi for the release of a collection of his poems that have been translated into Arabic and he is reflecting on his second memoir, The Fifth Inning, which was released this month as the first book published by Busboys and Poets.

“It examines middle age or what I call the fifth inning,” Miller explains. “In baseball, a game becomes official after five innings. I examine my life in a much deeper fashion than I did in Fathering Words. My first memoir has a chronological order because I was telling the reader about how I became a writer. The Fifth Inning examines my emotions, my dreams as well as failure. It’s perhaps the most honest book I’ve written.”

In addition to being director of the African-American Resource Center at Howard and a prolific writer, Miller is well-known as a tireless mentor to young people who aspire to success in the literary world.

“I tell them all the same thing,” he says. “Read the news each morning and know what’s going on around you. Discover a favorite author. Read for enjoyment and pleasure, but read in order to master the mechanics of what makes a poem or story go.”

In addition, Miller says young writers should ask themselves the fundamental questions: “Who am I? What do I believe in?  How can I be of service to my fellow man?” and let the answers to those questions lead them.

Despite his schedule, Miller finds time to serve his community through various area nonprofits. He currently chairs the board for the Institute for Policy Studies and is a board member of Provisions Learning Project, The Writer’s Center, Split This Rock and the Capitol Letters Writing Center. He is also the host and organizer of the popular “When The Word is Written Literary Series,” sponsored by the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. In 2004, he traveled to Camp Ederle in Vicenza, Italy to conduct a workshop with American troops stationed there.

“It was the first time NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) entered into a partnership with the U.S. military,” he says. “The project was a way of capturing the stories of the wartime experience. So many men and women in our military are writing at key points in their lives. We honor them with a program like Operation Homecoming. I was fortunate to be invited to conduct a writing workshop with troops who had been stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Here at home, he took a trip to a Maryland prison last month where he conducted a poetry workshop among the inmates. The power of his poetry became quickly evident among those who cited his work as their inspiration as they face life’s challenges.


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