FATHERING WORDS by E. Ethelbert Miller


The Making of an African American Writer
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A memoir that is both a moving family autobiography and a fairly tedious professional resume.

Poet Miller (Where Are the Love Poems for Dictators?, etc.) directs the African-American Resource Center at Howard University. It could be said that too many personal details of his writing career are given here, and that Miller drops the names of rather a lot of his editors, publishers, grant solicitors, fellow writers, and academicians into the text. (While it may be interesting to learn that Washington’s Mayor Marion Barry was good for the arts, for example, it is somewhat less than riveting to read June Jordan's gushing e-mail to Miller.) Far more engaging, however, is Miller’s account of the psychological forces that molded him into the sensitive, talented father of words that he became. His family life was the key element: Miller’s Panamanian father was an extremely taciturn man who rarely answered a telephone and hardly ever spoke to his own son. An immigrant to the US, Miller’s father settled in New York (Brooklyn, then the Bronx) and gave every appearance of being a devoted, if somewhat reserved, family man. In their most important conversation, however, Miller’s father told his ten-year-old son that he very nearly abandoned the family. In a similarly defining moment for this strained, powerful relationship, the young Miller gave up waiting for his father to pick him up at school one day, closed his eyes, and began to cross a busy street—only to have his father rush to save him at the last minute. Miller’s brother was less fortunate: although he tried his vocation as a monk at one point, he later became a drug addict and died young. Miller’s sister is an important force in his past, and she narrates a dozen fictional sections here.

Badly clouded by self-importance, Miller’s memoir nonetheless displays some fine, clear moments of eloquence and pathos.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-312-24136-4
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2000