Born: October 21, 1936
Leicester, North Carolina
Died: August 18, 1996
Bowling Green, Kentucky
One of Jim Wayne Miller’s tenets as a poet was to provide the reader with an environment of deep discovery. He once said that he was often amused when a tourist fisherman stepped into the clear water of his native Buncombe County, North Carolina and, much to his surprise, discovered that the pool was vastly deeper than he had imagined. “I want writing to be so transparent that the reader forgets he is reading and aware only that he is having an experience,” Miller wrote. “He is suddenly plunged deeper than he expected and comes up shivering.”
Miller was born on a 70-acre farm and reared in a family of five younger brothers and sisters. He left for Berea College in 1954 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1958. He married classmate Mary Ellen Yates and they moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where he was to earn his Ph.D. in German Language and Literature from Vanderbilt University in 1965. He studied under Fugitive poet Donald Davidson and Hawthorne Scholar Randall Stewart Miller.
While in Nashville, Miller wrote his seminal book of poetry, Copperhead Cane. The Millers settled at Western Kentucky State University in Bowling Green, where he had a 33-year teaching career in the Department of Modern Languages and Intercultural Studies. (Mary Ellen Miller taught English and creative writing at WKU for 54 years and became the university’s longest-serving professor before her death in 2018.)
Jim Wayne Miller never strayed far from his roots, becoming one of the premier Appalachian writers of his generation. He tirelessly promoted writing among eager audiences who attended his numerous workshops and speaking appearances throughout the South.
Appalachian scholar George Brosi said of Miller “… [he] lived life intensely. He drank prodigious amounts of coffee and smoked many cigarettes throughout every day and liked a good bourbon during his long nights. When talking to either an individual or a group, he listened intently and responded enthusiastically. He carried his erudition perhaps more gracefully than anyone I’ve ever met — never intruding upon a conversation in a showy way, and typically seeking out ways to learn from those who so often eagerly gathered around him. I don’t recall Jim Wayne Miller ever leaving a conversation to go to bed.”
Miller’s honors included the Alice Lloyd Memorial Prize for Appalachian Poetry (1967), the Thomas Wolfe Literary Award (1980), the Zoe Kincaid Brockman Memorial Award, Appalachian Writers Association Book of the Year Award and Appalachian Consortium Laurel Leaves Award.
Newfound. New York, NY: Orchard Books, 1989. Reprint, Frankfort, KY: Gnomon Press, 1996.
Copperhead Cane. Nashville: Robert Moore Allen, 1964. Reprinted as bilingual English- German, translated by Thomas Dorsett. Louisville: Grex Press Library Poetry Series, 1995.
The More Things Change the More They Stay the Same. With art by Jill Baker. Frankfort, Ky: Whippoorwill Press, 1971.
Dialogue With A Dead Man. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1974. Reprint, University Center, Mi.: Green River Press, 1978.
The Mountains Have Come Closer. Boone, N.C: Appalachian Consortium Press, 1980.
Vein of Words. Big Timber, Mont: Seven Buffaloes Press, 1984.
Nostalgia for 70. Big Timber, Mt.: Seven Buffaloes Press, 1986.
Brier, His Book. Frankfort, Ky: Gnomon Press, 1988.
The Wisdom of Folk Metaphor: The Brier Conducts a Laboratory Experiment. Big Timber, Mt: Seven Buffaloes Press, 1988.
The Brier Poems. Ed. Johnathan Green. Frankfort, Ky.: Gnomon Press, 1997.
The Examined Life: Family, Community, and Work in American Literature. Boone, N.C.: Appalachian Consortium Press, 1989.
His First, Best Country (chapbook of short stories). Frankfort, Ky: Gnomon Press, 1987. Reprint Frankfort, Ky.: Gnomon Press, 1993.
Criticism & Translations:
The Figure of Fulfillment: Translations of the Poetry of Emil Lerperger. Owensboro, Ky.: Green River Press, 1975.
Sideswipes (chapbook of satirical essays). Big Timber, Mont.: Seven Buffaloes Press, 1986.
Round and Round with Kahlil Gibran. With an introduction by Sharyn McCrumb. Blacksburg, Va.: Rowan Mountain Press, 1990.
Textbooks & Guides:
Reading, Writing, Region: A Checklist, Purchase Guide and Directory for School and Community Libraries in Appalachia. Boone, N.C.: Appalachian Consortium Press, 1984.
Edited by Jim Wayne Miller:
I Have a Place. Pippa Passes, KY: Appalachian Center, Alice Lloyd College, 1981.
Songs of a Mountain Plowman. By Jesse Stuart, with an introduction by Jim Wayne Miller. Ashland, KY: Jesse Stuart Foundation; Morehead, KY: Morehead State University’s Appalachian Development Center, 1986.
The Wolfpen Poems. By James Still, with an introduction by Jim Wayne Miller. Berea, KY: Berea College Press, 1986.
Kentucky is My Land. By Jesse Stuart, with an afterword by Jim Wayne Miller. Ashland, KY: Jesse Stuart Foundation, 1987.
To Teach, To Love. By Jesse Stuart, edited for re-issue by Jim Wayne Miller. Ashland, KY: Jesse Stuart Foundation, 1988.
A Ride with Huey the Engineer: Fact and Fiction from a colorful Era of America’s Past. By Jesse Stuart, edited for re-issue by Jim Wayne Miller. Ashland, KY: Jesse Stuart Foundation, 1988.
Jesse Stuart: The Man and His Books. Jerry A. Herndon and George Brosi, eds. with James M. Gifford and Jim Wayne Miller. Ashland, KY: Jesse Stuart Foundation, 1988.
A Penny’s Worth of Character. By Jesse Stuart, edited for re-issue by Jim Wayne Miller. Ashland, KY: Jesse Stuart Foundation, 1988.
A Jesse Stuart Reader. Edited for re-issue by Jim Wayne Miller. Ashland, KY: Jesse Stuart Foundation, 1988.
Hie To the Hunters. By Jesse Stuart, edited for re-issue by Jim Wayne Miller. Ashland, KY: Jesse Stuart Foundation, 1988.
The Beatinest Boy. By Jesse Stuart, edited for re-issue by Jim Wayne Miller and Jerry Herndon. Ashland, KY: Jesse Stuart Foundation, 1989.
The Rightful Owner. By Jesse Stuart, edited for re-issue by Jim Wayne Miller, James Gifford and Jerry Herndon. Ashland, KY: Jesse Stuart Foundation, 1989.