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Author, activist fights to make literary world a better place

By APRILL BRANDON
Nov. 28, 2010 at 5:28 a.m.


Neruda by E. Ethelbert Miller

(for Naomi)

Neruda's head is across town.

It's in the garden outside

the OAS building.

I need to go there.

No, I need to find what they

did to the rest of Neruda's body.

Where are Neruda's hands?

Legs? Feet? Did someone believe

Neruda's poems came only from his head?

What does one make love with?

Bring me Neruda's poems!

Ask them to confess.

If you go:Guest speaker: E. Ethelbert Miller

When: Noon Friday

Where: Alcorn Auditorium at the University of Houston-Victoria, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St.

Fee: Free and open to the public.

Although E. Ethelbert Miller will technically be doing a reading at the American Book Review reading series Friday, he's more interested in making the event like having a conversation with a writer.

"I always do a question-and-answer portion after a reading. I want it to be more of a form of dialogue rather than a form of entertainment," he added.

The Washington, D.C., poet and essayist is the author of 11 books and editor of four anthologies. His most recent book, "The Fifth Inning," is his second memoir, his first being 2000's "Fathering Words: The Making of an African American Writer."

"I'll be talking about memoirs, the importance of them and my own move from poetry to memoirs," he added. "I'll be touching on a lot of other issues that, as a writer, I'm concerned about as well."

In addition to his own writing, Miller is also a literary activist who has worked throughout his career to promote literature and writers throughout the country. He also concerns himself with important issues related to the literary world, he said.

"I'm a strong advocate for public libraries and independent bookstores. I also have worked with prisons, mentoring and helping those who are incarcerated find their voice in poetry. They may not become the best writers, but it can help them find what they're trying to say," he said. "Other things I'm concerned with are First Amendment issues, censorship, art budget cuts and the issue of literacy. We can't assume everyone can read and read well. To me, writing poems and stories and not paying attention to my workplace is unacceptable. I pay attention to make sure certain things are taken care of."

As part of his activism, Miller holds seats on several boards that deal with and promote literature and social justice. He is the board chairman for the Institute for Policy Studies and a board member of The Writer's Center. He is editor of Poet Lore magazine, one of the oldest poet magazines in the country. Since 1974, he has also been the director of the African American Resource Center at Howard University.

Among his numerous awards are the Mayor's Art Award for literature, the Public Humanities Award, the Columbia Merit Award, a Fulbright award to visit Israel and the 1994 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award for his novel "In Search of Color Everywhere." In 1979, the mayor of Washington, D.C., declared Sept. 28 of that year as "E. Ethelbert Miller Day."

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