Vassar Miller was born and reared in Houston, Texas, the daughter of a successful real estate developer whose family house, on Vassar Street, is the scene of many of her poems on childhood and on the anguish of coping with chronic illness and debilitation. Her father had early encouraged her by giving her a typewriter and coaching her first efforts at poetry; some of her poems give harrowing glimpses into the despair of a child whose mother physically rejected her. Miller attended the University of Houston for her B.S. and M.A. degrees; she wrote her master’s thesis on mysticism in the poetry of Edgar Arlington Robinson. For a time, she taught in a private school in Houston and was a participant in such literary conferences as the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Vermont in 1968 and the Southwest Writers’ conferences of 1973 and 1983, held at the University of Houston.
Illness discouraged her from teaching, but for years she was a familiar figure in her neighborhood streets, propelling her three-wheeled bicycle, until a local ordinance restricted its use. Miller is revered in Texas as a voice of resilient faith whose work eschews the major trends of modern poetry but is rich in the values of the Anglo-American tradition, both in candor and in tempered self-reliance.