Mother Millers How to Write Good Book 4th Revised Edition

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I think it is genuinely hard. It feels natural; it feels like the right that everyone should have. My other friends who are introduced as poets and are taken as poets, they might not recognize the privilege of that. They have just moved in privilege, but it seems casual, to be expected. Miller : Yes. I think probably moving between landscapes it becomes easier.

Can you tell me a bit about her, her background, her personality, what she was like? Miller : Both my mom and dad came from fairly large families, which were similar in some ways but very different in others.

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I could see an ease of class in my father, who was from an educated middle-class family, and I could see in my mother how class could consciously be performed, because it was important to her to perform class and she did it very well. She could move up and down a language range that was not accessible to my father. My father moved in a very limited register of Jamaican English.

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My mother and all her sisters are brilliant, ferociously skilful Scrabble players. In a way, words and language, being flexible with language, were more important to my mom and her family, and probably that had something to do with her father being a preacher. It also meant that though they came from rural Jamaica, they were the good family in the district. They were the family that people looked up to in that community. Loudness was a part of who she was.


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Everything about my mom was loud and joyful. She could be loud and very angry in other moments.


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  • Miller : I think she found human pretension relentlessly funny. It is sad now that there are so many things I see happening in the world that I find so immediately funny, and I think, Oh God, I want to tell my mom this. Wachtel : She died relatively young, when you were in your early thirties. You wrote a book of poetry that you felt was inspired by her.

    Where did you find that hope?

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    Miller : Hopefully somewhere in the middle of writing that book. Joy is important to me, and I think pain makes joy all the more urgent.

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    Wachtel : What about your father? What was he like when you were growing up? What kind of work did he do? He was a consultant with the government, kind of like my grandfather but behind the scenes; he worked in local government and became the authority on local government. He got so much joy from that and talked about it a lot with us.

    So naturally he got us very involved.

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    No matter how bored we were, we had to talk this through with him. That shaped us a lot, both me and my sister. Is that still a common attitude? Miller : Oh yes. And it is very racist because we never use that word, because our racism is so wonderfully sophisticated that we call it classism or shadeism, all kinds of other things.

    Racism, for Jamaicans, is something that operates in history and in America, not in Jamaica today. But a lot of what we call classism in Jamaica is very much rooted in racial attitudes, and a lot of what we call shadeism is obviously rooted in racist ideologies. Yet we never ever use that word in Jamaica. Can you give me a sense of the religious landscape in Jamaica? Miller : Religion is a big part of the fabric of Jamaican life.

    When I was younger, it felt to me that there were only different kinds of Christians, but there was no such thing as a non-Christian. When I was teaching in Jamaica very recently, one of my students asked me if I was a Christian or a backslider; the world was divided into these two sets of people. Again, we came from a household where my sister and I could have discussions with our father, we could negotiate a way not to go to the Anglican church our parents had us go to, but it never felt that the option was to leave church altogether.

    The option was to choose another church that you thought you might find more appropriate, and so we did, which in its own way was good. It meant that religion, at some point, was our choice. In the end, that gave me the freedom, ever so reluctantly, to leave. But religion did become my own. I was thinking my own way through it, and therefore I could think my own way out of it.

    Wachtel : But your way out of it seemed to be via getting deeper into it, because you were even preaching at one point. Miller : Definitely. Religion was very important to me, and I think it is absolutely part of my spine now, in some of the values I picked up.

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    I see the beauty of it. And I know these people, I know what is in their heart. But religion gave me a pair of eyes. It shaped who I was as a writer in fundamental ways. And so, to me, it was a fundamental lesson about how to manipulate language. It gave me technical skills that I probably would have picked up eventually, but I picked them up in the church. Wachtel : And how did preaching get you out of the church?

    When you were eighteen, you were asked to give a series of sermons at a Pentecostal summer camp, and the sermons were a success. And yet it was the start of a gradual pulling away from the church. Miller : I felt like a fraud. The verbs did that.

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    And it just made me feel like a bad person to receive compliments because of that. The church I went to was adamant that you worship God with all your heart and all your soul, and they would rattle through these two, but for them it was also important that you worshipped God with all of your mind. They actually gave us tools that not many churches would give. You need to be curious and test it with your own intellect. Did you feel a sense of loss when you left? Miller : I try to retrieve it. I try to go back, and I try to feel what I used to. And I cannot un-see that.

    But there are other things. I remember taking a Syrian friend to a church once, and it was this wonderful sermon about how God moves us from places of comfort to other places and how He will see us through. And as the preacher calls out these names, the church is responding to this as just a metaphor. Wachtel : In the opening of your latest novel, Augustown , you invite us to imagine ourselves up in space gazing down at the Caribbean, and you give us the geographic coordinates for a dusty town in a ramshackle valley on the island of Jamaica.

    Tell me about this place, Augustown, and why you want to take us there. The houses of Beverly Hills are above August Town, but they kind of turn their back to it, and so they would look down generally in another direction. But I was really putting myself back at my house and thinking about what that meant.