Fathering Words: The Making of an African American Poet
by E. Ethelbert Miller St. Martin's Press, June 2000 $21.95, ISBN 0-312-24136-4
The 1990s were a period which offered a profound and progressive focus on fatherhood, with a particular focus on the reassimilation of the father into the American family. There were a number of studies conducted in this vein, particularly with regard to black fathers. One can now examine recent literary works to find a fresh perspective on the relationship between African American men and their children. E. Ethelbert Miller writes about his relationship to fatherhood, and the impact of his relationship to his father on his career, with eloquence. Miller, a prolific poet, demonstrates a strong love of language and what comes to the forefront is that this text is about Miller's relationship with words.
The book begins with a reflection upon Miller's late brother Richard. "The day after my brother died, Carmen, one of his neighbors, said she saw him walking his dog." Miller also touches on Richard's relationship with God and his transformative influence on Miller's spiritual beliefs. Fathering Words is infused throughout with Miller's spirituality and the presence of the supernatural. This is far more than a simple laundry list of the events of a poet's life. The reader is taken deep within Miller's soul and afforded an opportunity to witness the shaping of him as poet.
To illuminate the layers of family experience, Miller employs multiple voices. For example, in Chapter Five, Miller's sister narrates. "Maybe, because I was a girl, I knew my mother better then my brothers [did]." Certainly, such revelation from Miller's sister must have affected him. One can read that the very act of creating Fathering Words...