Alma Routsong Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Isabel Miller was born Alma Routsong, the daughter of a policeman and a nurse. She grew up in Michigan, attended Western Michigan University, and worked as a cherry picker, waitress, and lumber hauler before joining the WAVES (the women’s volunteer section of the Navy, established during World War II) as a Navy hospital apprentice in 1945. In 1947, she married Bruce Brodie; they had four daughters. Miller completed a degree in art from Michigan State University in 1949. She had “a gift for drawing faces,” she later said.{$S[A]Routsong, Alma;Miller, Isabel}

During the 1950’s, Miller published two novels under her birth name. While A Gradual Joy and Round Shape are stories of heterosexual marriages and may be of little interest to Miller’s current audience, they share some literary qualities with her later work. These qualities include the choices of ordinary people and their relationships—examined with tenderness but without sentimentality—as worthy subjects of fiction, emphasis on characterization rather than plot, and the simple, graceful cadences of the author’s sentences.

Then Miller made a major change in her life and her writing. Acknowledging her lesbianism, she left her husband and moved to Washington, D.C., with her lover. An incident of government employment discrimination caused them to move to New York in 1963 (the short story “Strangers in Camelot” presents a fictionalization of this episode). There Miller worked as an editor at the Columbia University publications office and later as a proofreader and copy editor at Time magazine. She became active in the fledgling Gay Liberation movement, adopted her present pseudonym—Miller was her mother’s birth name, and Isabel is an anagram for “lesbia”—and began work on her landmark novel, A Place for Us.

Set in 1816, inspired by the lives of American folk painter Mary Ann Willson and her romantic companion, Miss Brundidge, A Place for Us is the love story of Patience White and Sarah Dowling. With no models for their relationship, the two women nevertheless accept its goodness, leave their families, and establish a frontier home together in upstate New York. One paints; the other farms. The lovers alternate as the novel’s narrators.

Following several rejections, Miller printed the volume...

(The entire section is 966 words.)