Obituary: Michael Miller, Writer, Editor of New York Arts and Hudson-Housatonic Arts, Dies at 73

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Michael Miller (1948-2021)

Michael James Miller, writer and arts critic, died aged 73 on November 14th, 2021, after a long illness with cancer. He was at home in North Adams, MA, his partner Joanna Gabler and youngest son, Lucas, beside him. His last word was “Peace.”

Michael was born on January 10th, 1948, in Miami, FL, the son of Max “Ike” Miller, a restauranteur and later a successful commodities trader. His mother was Helen (née Briggs), a homemaker and devoted parent to him and his elder sister, Anne.

An article in The Miami Herald from 1950 dubs Michael, then two, the “Miami Flash”—so impressed were the reporters by his precocious swimming abilities. He enjoyed a prosperous, post-war American upbringing, though not without hardship: his parents’ marriage ended in separation and his mother died when he was only eleven.

He received a rigorous education, studying at Browning, Exeter, Harvard, and then Oxford, where he met his first wife Morag Hollway, before returning to Harvard for a PhD. Classics and the History of Art were his subjects as a young man, but his interests were ever-expanding and he continued to enroll in classes all his life, even as he shared his own encyclopedic knowledge as a visiting professor at The New School, New York University, Oberlin, Williams and beyond. He loved languages and knew Greek, Latin, German, French, Italian, some Polish, and of course English, which he taught a history of. From 1986-1993, he served as the Assistant Curator of Prints & Drawings at The Cleveland Museum of Art. Later, he and his second wife, Lucy Vivante, dealt in old master drawings, placing works in major institutions including The National Gallery, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Louvre.

He was the founder, editor-in-chief and lead writer of two online magazines, New York Arts and Hudson-Housatonic Arts (formerly The Berkshire Review for the Arts), both esteemed for their in-depth reviews on classical music, theater, fine art, cinema and more.

He wrote introductions to books by photographers Leonard Freed and George Tice, and he was a skilled photographer himself, working with film and digital technologies, large format and 35mm. He photographed disused drive-ins, depressed shop windows, beautiful scenery in Ireland, the Mojave desert and the Berkshires—the latter his home of many years. He was a librettist and playwright, penning Midi, based on Euripides’ Medea for Lewis Spratlan’s opera set in Martinique, and he wrote several plays including the award-winning one man drama, Transfiguration, which played at United Solo, and Breezewood, set at the eponymous truck stop in Pennsylvania. Theater was among his most enduring of passions. He was a member of The Dramatist’s Guild and was proudly admitted to The Player’s Club in New York City shortly before his death.

Below is a poem on the subject of mortality by his favorite American playwright, Tennessee Williams, taken from The Night of the Iguana, followed by two passages from Shakespeare, his favorite of all:

How calmly does the orange branch
Observe the sky begin to blanch
Without a cry, without a prayer,
With no betrayal of despair.

Sometime while night obscures the tree
The zenith of its life will be
Gone past forever, and from thence
A second history will commence.

A chronicle no longer gold,
A bargaining with mist and mould,
And finally the broken stem
The plummeting to earth; and then

An intercourse not well designed
For beings of a golden kind
Whose native green must arch above
The earth’s obscene, corrupting love.

And still the ripe fruit and the branch
Observe the sky begin to blanch
Without a cry, without a prayer,
With no betrayal of despair.

O Courage, could you not as well
Select a second place to dwell,
Not only in that golden tree
But in the frightened heart of me?

— — —

These lines from Hamlet’s first soliloquy (Act I, Sc II) were recalled by Michael for typing practice on the day before his death (he had lost some dexterity following a recent stroke, a debilitation he was determined to overcome):

O, that this too too solid flesh would melt,
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew!

And from Cymbeline, one of the plays he discussed in a recent podcast on the history of Shakespeare & Company:

Fear no more the heat o’ the Sun,
Nor the furious Winter’s rages,
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages:
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

Michael Miller is survived by his life partner, Joanna Gabler; sister Anne Bennett; daughter Delfina Florilège; sons Alan and Lucas Miller and Jakub Kierszka. 

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