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E. Ethelbert Miller


Eugene Ethelbert Miller was born in the Bronx, New York, on November 20, 1950, and received his BA in African American studies from Howard University in 1972.

His poetry collections include How We Sleep on the Nights We Don’t Make Love (Curbstone Press, 2004); Buddha Weeping in Winter (Red Dragonfly Press, 2001); Whispers, Secrets, and Promises (Black Classic Press, 1998); and First Light: New and Selected Poems (Black Classic Press, 1994). He is also the author of the two memoirs The 5th Inning (PM Press, 2009) and Fathering Words: The Making of an African American Writer (Black Classic Press, 2000) and the editor of a number of anthologies, including the highly acclaimed In Search of Color Everywhere (Stewart Tabori & Chang, 1994), which received the 1994 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award.

His honors include the Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award given by Poets & Writers; the 1994 Columbia Merit Award; the 1982 Mayor’s Arts Award for Literature in Washington, D.C.; the O. B. Hardison Jr. Poetry Prize; and a fellowship from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. In 1979, the mayor of Washington, D.C., proclaimed September 28, 1979, as “E. Ethelbert Miller Day,” and on May 21, 2001, “E. Ethelbert Miller Day” was proclaimed in Jackson, Tennessee, as well. In 1996, Miller was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Literature from Emory & Henry College, and on April 19, 2015, he was inducted into the Washington, D.C., Hall of Fame.

Miller is the founder and director of the Ascension Poetry Reading Series, one of the oldest literary series in the Washington area, and for a decade served as the editor of Poet Lore, the oldest poetry magazine in the United States. He served as a commissioner for the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities from 1997 to 2008, is board emeritus for the PEN/Faukner Foundation, and is the former director of the African American Resource Center at Howard University, a position he held for over four decades.

Miller has taught at American University, Bennington College, Emory & Henry College, and George Mason University, among others, and his work has been translated into multiple languages. He is currently the board chair of the progressive think tank the Institute for Policy Studies and lives in Washington, D.C.

Selected Bibliography

How We Sleep on the Nights We Don’t Make Love (Curbstone Press, 2004)
Buddha Weeping in Winter (Red Dragonfly Press, 2001)
Whispers, Secrets, and Promises (Black Classic Press, 1998),
First Light: New and Selected Poems (Black Classic Press, 1994)
Where Are the Love Poems for Dictators? (Open Hand Publishing, 1986)
Season of Hunger/Cry of Rain: Poems 1975-1980 (Lotus Press, 1982)
The Migrant Worker (Washington Writers’ Publishing House, 1978)

The 5th Inning (PM Press, 2009)
Fathering Words: The Making of an African American Writer (Black Classic Press, 2000)


By This Poet


Looking for Omar

I'm in the school bathroom
washing my hands without
soap but I'm still washing my hands.

I turn the water off
and look for a paper towel
but paper towels have been gone
since the first day of school
and it's June now.

I start to leave the bathroom
with my wet hands but then
the big boys come in talking
loud and cussing like they
rap stars or have new sneakers.

I hear the one named Pinto
talking about how someone
should get Omar after school
since he's the only Muslim they know.

Pinto talks with an accent
like he's new in the neighborhood too.

I don't have to ask him
what he's talking about
since everybody is talking
about the Towers and how they
ain't there no more.

My momma said it's like
a woman losing both
breasts to cancer and my daddy
was talking at the dinner table
about how senseless violence is
and Mrs. Gardner next door lost
two tall boys to drive-bys

Bullets flying into
both boys heads
making them crumble too.

Everybody around here is
filled with fear and craziness
and now Pinto and the big boys
thinking about doing something bad.

I stare at my wet hands
dripping water on my shoes
and wonder if I should run
and tell Omar or just run.

I feel like I'm trapped
in the middle of one of those
Bible stories but it ain't

I hear my Momma's voice

Boy, always remember to wash
your hands but always remember
you can't wash your hands from

         Nashville, TN

What Does E Stand For?

Each eye exists embracing exceptional emerald evenings
Evolution explains Eden's evil
Earth's ecology equates exploitation evaporation
Errors ending evergreen elms
Escort elephants eagles elks eastward
Enlightenment echoes Ezra Ezekiel
Enlist Esther Eugene Ethan Edward Ellington
Enough English explanation ecco
Exit eternity
Elucidate Ethelbert elucidate
E evokes every ecstatic emotion

The Ear is an Organ Made for Love

       (for Me-K)

It was the language that left us first.
The Great Migration of words. When people
spoke they punched each other in the mouth.
There was no vocabulary for love. Women
became masculine and could no longer give
birth to warmth or a simple caress with their
lips. Tongues were overweight from profanity
and the taste of nastiness. It settled over cities
like fog smothering everything in sight. My
ears begged for camouflage and the chance
to go to war. Everywhere was the decay of
how we sound. Someone said it reminded
them of the time Sonny Rollins disappeared.
People spread stories of how the air would
never be the same or forgive. It was the end
of civilization and nowhere could one hear
the first notes of A Love Supreme. It was as
if John Coltrane had never been born.