Sue Miller Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Sue Miller made her reputation as one of the most clear-eyed chroniclers of the tensions and stresses of middle-class family life in the United States in the second half of the twentieth century. She has a keen insight into conflicts between different generations as well as between siblings and husbands and wives. Descended from clergy on both sides for several generations, Miller grew up in an integrated Chicago neighborhood. At the age of sixteen she entered Radcliffe College and graduated with a B.A. in English Literature. She went on to earn an M.A. in early childhood education from Harvard University, an M.A. in creative writing from Boston University, and an M.A. in English education from Wesleyan University. Miller married a medical student after leaving Radcliffe, but they were divorced in the 1970’s, three years after the birth of their son.

After completing her formal education Miller worked for eight years as a day-care teacher, an experience to which she later credited the keen observation and profound understanding of childhood psychology that critics noted in her writing. In 1983 Miller published a short story in the North American Review that became the basis for her first novel, The Good Mother. In this highly acclaimed first novel, Miller staked out her territory; the domestic country of conflict where issues of control and divided loyalties strip her characters bare. Anna Dunlap, the title character, is the sympathetic narrator of the story. Her husband, Brian, appears to be a decent man, and when they divorce, Anna receives custody of their daughter, Molly. The portrait of Molly Dunlap is one of the triumphs of the novel; an authentic depiction of a bright, happy, child, struggling to make sense of the torn world her parents have created. At first Anna’s life alone with Molly proceeds smoothly, but when she steps out of her chaste role as a single mother to engage in a passionate affair with an artist named Leo, she sets the wheels of retribution in...

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(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Sue Miller was born on the south side of Chicago in 1943, into what she calls a family “ecclesiastical to its roots”; both grandfathers were preachers, and her father, also a minister, taught church history at the University of Chicago. She entered Radcliffe College at the age of sixteen and majored in history. By the time she was twenty, she had graduated and married a medical student. She taught high school English for a time, worked in a Head Start program, was a cocktail waitress, a research assistant, and a model.

When her marriage failed, she supported her son as a preschool teacher and helped found the Harvard Day Care Center. She has said that one day she read a review of Robert Coover’s first novel and was stunned because she remembered Coover as a boarder in her parent’s basement apartment when he was a graduate student at the University of Chicago. “Suddenly,” she says, “publishing a book was not such a remote thing.”

In 1979, Miller attended the creative writing program at Boston University on a fellowship and began to publish stories in literary magazines; she also taught as an adjunct faculty member at Boston University, Tufts University, Emerson College, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1983, she won a Bunting Fellowship at Radcliffe, during which time she finished half of The Good Mother. Her first novel was a best-seller and in 1988 was made into a successful film, staring Diane Keaton and Liam Neeson. Miller remarried, writer Douglas Bauer this time; they settled in Boston’s south end.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Sue Miller, the second of four children, was born and grew up in Chicago. Her father taught religion at the University of Chicago, and her mother was a full-time homemaker. The Miller family had ministers in their lineage for three generations, and Miller grew up in an atmosphere steeped in the language of sermons and serious thinking about issues of right and wrong. Miller was a quiet child and read avidly. Finishing high school early, she entered Harvard University at the age of sixteen. She has stated that she was overwhelmed by the situation and glided through her time at the university without really reaping the benefits.

After graduating at twenty, she married a medical student and worked to support him. They had a son, Ben, in 1968, and the marriage ended in 1971. For the next thirteen years, Miller worked at many jobs and continued her education, eventually earning a master’s degree in creative writing from Boston University, an M.A. in education from Harvard University, and an M.A. in teaching from Wesleyan University. In 1985 she married writer Michael Bauer, but they later divorced. As her reputation as an American realist author has grown, Miller has taught at universities in the Boston area, has done guest editing for anthologies, and has written short stories for magazines, in addition to continuing to work on her novels.