It was my considerable pleasure to have an extended chat with E. Ethelbert Miller last week on his weekly WPFW show “On the Margin.

A bit more about Ethelbert, here.

And here’s a small, but beautiful taste of his poetic skills. This one, simply and devastatingly entitled “The Things in Black Men’s Closets” does what the best writing can do: it packs the types of punches that you don’t know hit you until your brain swells with insight, never to be the same. It also condenses volumes of information and emotion into the most succinct space, where an extra line would suffocate and one less word could send the whole structure crumbling into the dark spaces from whence it came. Suffice it to say, I recommend the uninitiated to check out his work, and there’s no better place than this collection (which happens to have been edited by my friend, an outstanding poet in her own right, Kirsten Porter).

on the top shelf
of the closet
is the hat my father
wears on special occasions
it rests next to the large jar
he saves pennies in


his head is always bare
when i see him walking
in the street


i once sat in his bedroom
watching him search
between sweaters and suits
looking for something missing
a tie perhaps


then he stopped
and slowly walked to the closet
took the hat from the shelf


i sat on the bed
studying his back
waiting for him to turn
and tell me who died



Not surprisingly, Ethelbert was an informed and generous host, and it was supremely gratifying to have a wide-ranging discussion with him. We talked at some length about passages from my memoir Please Talk about Me When I’m Gone. Then we explored a handful of my essays (all collected in Murphy’s Law, Vol. One), including a number of personal favorites: O’Connor and Coltrane: Saints of American Art; God Is Not Dead: Let Us Give Thanks and Praise for Jimi Hendrix; Robert Johnson: The Centennial of an American Genius; Amy Winehouse: Lack of Love is a Losing Game; we even managed to briefly address one of my beloved topics, Beethoven.


Oh, and he also provided me time to talk about the Virginia Center for Literary Arts. I hope you’ll listen (and FYI, the sixty minute program is split in two; the first half focuses on my writing, the second is all about VCLA), and I’d love to hear from you if this conversation prompts comments or suggestions, etc.

Needless to say, I’m grateful for this opportunity, and I encourage anyone interested or curious to contact me with questions, ideas, and ways to get involved. We’re actively raising funds to complete reconstruction of our beautiful property in downtown Winchester, and while we work toward that milestone, we are rolling out an incredible events program including author readings, free seminars, and workshops. We welcome philanthropic contributions, and your help spreading the word is both critical and hugely appreciated!

(If you have any trouble with the audio, below, you can go directly to the WPFW site and under “Archived Shows” page, our conversation is from 2/7.)

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