1918 - 2010
Walter James Miller, Professor Emeritus at New York University, died of heart failure on June 20th at the age of 92. It was the death he would have wanted: unpredicted and quick. That he died on Father's Day, whose sentimentality he loathed, would have seemed to him appropriately iconoclastic. In keeping with his wishes, there will be no funeral.
Miller was a poet, playwright, literary critic, and educator. Born January 16th, 1918 in McKee City, NJ, he attended Brooklyn College and Columbia University, and served as a public relations officer in the United States Army from 1943-1946. He held teaching positions at the Polytechnic Institute in Brooklyn and at Colorado State University in Fort Collins before joining the faculty at NYU in 1958. Miller achieved international recognition as a scholar, writing often about modern American fiction --including the work of his long-time friend Kurt Vonnegut -- and earning a place as the
respected leader of American Jules Verne scholars. Among his hundreds of publications was the first unabridged English translation of Verne's classic Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea; this was followed by a series of new translations and annotated editions of other Verne classics. During the 1960's Miller hosted the WNYC television and radio shows Book World and Reader's Almanac, in which he conducted early interviews with many not-yet-famous writers such as Nadine Gordimer and Allen Ginsberg; a series of these interviews was released in 2006 as a CD, Essential Vonnegut.
A critic and dedicated educator, Miller's deepest professional commitment was to poetry. Influenced by early study with W.H. Auden, Miller's poems were published in such journals as The New York Quarterly and Poet Lore and in two books, Making an Angel (1977) and Love's Mainland (2001).
Miller was a beloved and inspiring teacher of writing, literature and humanities, teaching both traditional and returning students at NYU for over 40 years, and serving as an editorial consultant for NYU faculty. He received the NYU Alumni Association Great Teacher Award in 1980, and conducted ongoing reading groups for professionals from other disciplines until his death. He never stopped thinking, talking, writing, and corresponding about the literature that he loved.
Walter James Miller was a passionate life-long supporter of progressive causes. He was active in PEN and in the Authors' Guild -- and wished donations to be made in his name to the latter. Tied in his bones to NYC, he nevertheless loved nature and spent much time hiking, camping, and fishing around the United States. His friendships were eclectic and he will be deeply missed by many, including taxi drivers, university administrators, janitors, students, friends -- and most deeply by his family. He is survived by his wife Mary Hume; his children from previous marriages Naomi, Jason, Robin, Jared and Elizabeth; his daughter-in-laws Joan Dornhoefer and Janine Barofka; his son-in-law Rich Brown; his grandchildren Johann, Ryan, Nicole, Jorgen, Scott and Daniel; his mother-in-law Margaret Hume; his sister Celeste; and his niece and nephews Lori, Tommy and Ted.
Published in New York Times from Jun. 23 to Jun. 24, 2010.