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Three Things with Char Miller

by Burgin Streetman on

In each edition of Three Things, we ask one of our authors to tell us three interesting things about their lives and writing, and the answers are often surprising. This time we set our sights on Char Miller, director of the environmental analysis program and W. M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis at Pomona College, and author of our books On the Edge: Water, Immigration, and Politics in the Southwest and Deep in the Heart of San Antonio, and editor of On the Border: An Environmental History of San Antonio and Fifty Years of the Texas Observer.

1. What was the last book you read? 

I'm just finishing Jess Walter’s The Financial Lives of the Poets, an unsettlingly funny novel about a character who does almost nothing right—leaves his job just as the economy implodes, starts selling drugs in hopes of reversing his fortunes (good luck with that), and then blows up his marriage, only to repair it with a maturity that had eluded him for so long. 

In advance of a talk at Angelo State, I also reread Arnoldo De León’s They Called Them Greasers: Anglo Attitudes toward Mexicans in Texas, 1821–1900, which I first encountered shortly after arriving in San Antonio. It proved pivotal in shaping my thinking about this new, strange place. De Leon is a brilliant, painstaking historian who upended the prevailing narrative that had deeply discounted the malevolence of the Lone Star State’s brutal and discriminatory politics. Because he taught at Angelo State for forty years, it seemed an appropriate homage to integrate his insights into my talk there, “Reservation/Preservation: The Language of Conquest in the American West,” a probe of the unsettlingly tight relationship between the establishment of Indian reservations and the creation of national parks in the late nineteenth century.

 2. Who was your hero when you were little?

I read a lot as a child, but my fascinations were sports driven, and therefore so were those I thought heroic. Y. A. Tittle, the embattled and bloodied quarterback for the New York Giants; Maurice (the Rocket) Richard, the fast-scoring forward for the Montreal Canadiens, whose balletic moves on ice were impossible to replicate (though I tried often enough on the black-ice pond behind our house in Connecticut); and the 1962 New York Mets, who in their inaugural season were so very bad that they became great in my young eyes. 

3. What is your favorite place in the whole world? 

Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts, a spit of land at times connected to Martha’s Vineyard Island and at times (like now) not. My mother, Hutze, owned homes overlooking its waters from the 1940s until her death in 2009, and it is a landscape I most associate with her. And like my mother, it is tough and resilient. It's not a little raw, even wounded, studded with scrub oaks that have survived despite fierce winds, crashing waves, and infertile soil.

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