May Miller (January 26, 1899 – February 8, 1995) was an African-American poet, playwright and educator. Miller became known as the most widely published female playwright of the Harlem Renaissance, with seven published volumes of poetry during her career as a writer.

Personal life

May Miller was born in Washington, D.C., to Kelly and Anna May Miller, one of the Millers' five children. Kelly Miller, born shortly after the Emancipation Proclamation, was the first African-American student to attend Johns Hopkins University, and later became one of the pioneers of sociology.

Writing career

Early years

Miller began writing poetry at an early age, buying a pair of earrings with her first earnings. While attending Dunbar High School Miller studied under the writers Mary P. Burrill and Angelina Weld Grimke. She graduated from Howard University in 1920, where she won an award for her play Within the Shadows.

Harlem Renaissance era

May Miller's entry into the cultural scene of the Harlem Renaissance began with the publishing of her play The Bog Guide in 1925. Her work claimed third place in the play category for Opportunity magazine's Literary Prize Contest in 1925. Miller sought through her writing to portray black people with a level of respect and dignity that had been absent in drama. Inspired by the work of the Chicago Imagists and Archibald Macleish, Miller turned her writing towards poetry in the 1940s.

Academic career

Miller did graduate work in poetry and drama at American University and Columbia University, followed by twenty years teaching English and speech at Frederick Douglass High School, in Baltimore, Maryland. Miller also lectured at Monmouth College, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, and Phillips Exeter Academy.

Partial list of works

  • The Bog Guide. Alexandria, Virginia: Alexander Street Press, 2003. (Original work published in 1925.)
  • Scratches. Alexandria, VA: Alexander Street Press, 2003. (Original work published in 1929.)
  • Stragglers in the Dust. Alexandria, VA: Alexander Street Press, 2001. (Original work published in 1930.)
  • Nails and Thorns. Alexandria, VA: Alexander Street Press, 2001. (Original work published in 1933.)