Walter James Miller
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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.
Memories & Condolences
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11 entries
February 27, 2011
February 27, 2011
I still expect to see an email from Uncle Walter..I miss him so very much. He touched my life so deeply. Cheers, Unc! Lori
January 29, 2011
Walter James Miller was my literature professor and mentor when I attended NYU in the 70s. His passion for literature ignited a spark in me that led to my becoming a professional writer. I don't know whether to love him or hate him for that but I think the answer is to love him! Nobody that I ever met knew more about literature than Professor Miller and I consider myself blessed to have had him in my life. Bravo, Walter...bravo!!!
Steven Kunes
December 18, 2010
I am very saddened to learn of Walter's passing. He was my first fiction teacher, an amazing mentor and magical human being. Angels were watching over me when I signed up for his class at NYC. He was a perceptive and senstive mentor and a musician as well. He heard the lyricism in my prose. I was proud of that -- it was a tribute to my late husband whose lyrical trumpet playing and soaring solos seemed to have influenced the shape of my thoughts and sentences -- at least the ones we liked best. Walter knew when to let the small stuff go. I still here him saying "Don't worry about commas, there are editors for that. Just write." After meeting a colleague of his at a writing residency in 2008, I attempted to get in touch with him via his NYC e-mail but did not hear back. The work I started in his class continues. I am so sorry I did not complete the novel in Walter's lifetime, but from having been graced with his wise words and subtle teaching my life is better, richer, and it took a different course. Walter validated me as a writer and as a struggling artist trying to find an authentic voice and confidence.
My thoughts are with you Mary, I remember how much you two adored each other and it was a delight to witness. He had a wonderful, whimsical, and creative life and will not be forgotten by those of us he touched and taught.
Roberta Lawrence
October 5, 2010
He was my friend and mentor. I am glad that he died well, productive to the end.
Geoffrey Fox
August 11, 2010
I am so sad to learn of his passing.
Anna Eskenazi Bush, Olean, NY
August 8, 2010
I contacted Walter when I was still in high school... After discovering that I was related to the poet Chester Kallman, I became obsessed with researching his life and saw Walter's name in Harold Norse's memoirs. Out of pure curiosity, I googled him and sent an email. Walter responded with such warmth and openness. He wrote to me about Chester Kallman, WH Auden, and NYU (where I'd just been accepted). He even let me ask him questions over the phone, where I recorded our interview. But what he did most importantly was sent me a copy of his book. I couldn't believe that, while still in high school, I was corresponding with a REAL POET. I proudly showed off my book to my English teacher and made her read the poem Walter wrote on my relative, "Arabesques around Pain." To this day, his insight on Chester is the most touching and valuable I've read. He was the first person to respond to my query. He made me believe that research and contacting these writers, could actually produce results and that communicating with artists was possible. All of this was before I'd even graduated high school and moved to NY. Before I had any idea of what I wanted to do with this research.

He all did this as a personal, rather than academic favor and I can never thank him enough for helping define some of my own family history. And define myself as a person. And writer. And NYU student. He took my questions seriously, gave me all of the time in the world, and didn't question the fact that I was seventeen at the time of our first email.

Throughout my years at NYU and after, Walter kept in touch, sending articles and occasional check-ins with the status of my projects, my plays, etc. His graciousness was something that I wish more professors had adopted.

I'm sure Walter's words will continue to be read and enjoyed.
Lindsey Ferrentino
June 28, 2010
Here is Walter receiving an award for his Verne scholarship at the Library of Congress in 2004.
It is seldom given to us to actually meet someone whose name we have long looked up to, but I had that pleasure during a trip east in 1990. Walter's 1965 edition of 20,000 Leagues had been responsible for launching my fascination with Jules Verne.

NYU gave me his phone number, and we had lunch the next day. I was fortunate to be able to count him as a friend for the next 20 years. His personal kindness was no less meaningful than his intellectual dynamism.

My only wish was that he had lived to know that the North American Jules Verne Society had already decided to dedicate to him our third volume in the Palik Series of previously untranslated Verne stories, The Count of Chanteleine. And we are about to begin checking page proofs of the first volume, for which Walter provided an introduction.

So his legacy, his inspiration, and his scholarship live on.

Thank you, Walter, for all that you gave of yourself to so many; you will be deeply missed.
Brian Taves
June 27, 2010
Today North America teems with dedicated Vernians, and an amazing number of us cite the same two childhood inspirations: Disney's 1954 film of 20,000 Leagues . . . and Walter Miller's early writings on Jules Verne. These days scores of new English translations and editions are available of the Frenchman's protean novels . . . all down-line from Walter's pioneering scholarship. He was our founding father . . . alas, now our patron saint.

Frederick Paul Walter, Albuquerque.
June 26, 2010
He was a wonderful English teacher.
Jane Heil
June 24, 2010
My sympathies to his family. His introduction to his 1965 translation of "20,000 Leagues under the Sea" was a revelation to me (a ninth-grader at the time). I've followed his other Verne work with interest since: he always wrote clearly, energetically, and without condescension. He will be greatly missed.
Tad Davis
June 24, 2010
My thoughts and prayers are with you in your time of grief. May your memories bring you comfort.
Noel Gibilaro
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