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Vassar Miller


Biography of Vassar Miller

Vassar Miller (July 19, 1924 – October 31, 1998) was a writer and poet.

Miller was born in Houston, Texas, the daughter of real estate invester Jesse G. Miller. She began writing as a child, composing on a typewriter due to the cerebral palsy which affected her speech and movement. She attended the University of Houston, receiving her B.A. and M.A. in English.

In 1956, Miller published her first volume of poetry, Adam's Footprint. Her poems, most of which dealt with either her strong religious faith or her experiences as a person with a disability, were widely praised for their rigorous formality, clarity, and emotional impact. In 1961 Miller was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her collection Wage War on Silence. Her poems have been published in hundreds of periodicals and more than 50 anthologies, including Spanish translations in Latin American journals. The lasting power of Ms. Miller’s poetry and its distinctiveness was aptly described by many, including author Larry McMurtry. Reflecting on the qualities that make the work of only a few artists survive, Mr. McMurtry wrote of Vassar Miller and her poetry: “It’s easy to point out her clarity, her precision, her intelligence, her honesty. But I want to mention one other quality that I think she has both as a person and as a poet, and that is her tenacity. It’s not simply brute survival that a poet is involved with, although sometimes they are; it’s more than that. It’s a tenacity that has to be at one and the same time, physical, intellectual, and moral. I believe this tenacity is something that Vassar Miller is richly endowed with.”

Over the course of a literary career which spanned almost forty years, Miller published ten volumes of poetry in all. Vassar Miller’s ten volumes of poetry, published between 1956 and 1984 were collected in 1991 under the title If I Had Wheels or Love. An outspoken advocate for the rights and dignity of the handicapped, Miller also edited a collection of poetry and short stories about persons with disabilities titled Despite This Flesh. Miller received many awards and accolades for her poetry in her home state. Three of her books won the annual poetry prize of the Texas Institute of Letters. In 1982 and 1988 Miller was named Poet Laureate of Texas, and in 1997 she was named to the Texas Women's Hall of Fame by the Governor's Commission for Women.

In addition to her writing and teaching, Ms. Miller was involved in civic work and in 1989 the Young Women’s Christian Association named her an Outstanding Woman of Houston. Born in Houston on July 19, 1924, her achievements as a poet became all the more remarkable given that she was born a victim of cerebral palsy. Ms. Miller was not only a poet of extraordinary talent, she was a woman whose indomitable spirit enabled her to overcome her significant physical limitations. Vassar Miller died October 31, 1998.

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