‘He lived like a poet’: Berkeley poet, memoirist, campus teacher AD Miller dies at 98

Photo of Adam David Miller
Greg Welker/Courtesy
AD Miller left a lasting legacy in Berkeley, serving on the Civic Arts Commission and helping to create the poetry walk on Addison Street.

Poet, memoirist, publisher and former English teacher at UC Berkeley Adam David Miller died Nov. 4 at the age of 98.

Growing up in Jim Crow South Carolina, Miller moved to Berkeley more than 50 years ago, according to his wife S. Elise Peeples. Despite experiencing racism throughout his lifetime, Peeples highlighted Miller’s curiosity and bravery, adding that he was the embodiment of his signature phrase “keep sending love out.”

Upon moving into Miller’s house, Peeples said she thought it was going to collapse from the sheer amount of books he owned.

“This house was a library,” Peeples said. “His poetry collection is amazing in its diversity of voices. He just really loved poetry — he talked like a poet, he lived like a poet and he died like a poet, too.”

Miller left a lasting legacy in Berkeley, serving on the Civic Arts Commission and helping to create the poetry walk on Addison Street along with poet laureate and UC Berkeley English professor emeritus Robert Hass, according to Peeples. The city of Berkeley recognized Miller and his poetry by proclaiming a day in his honor, Peeples added.

Miller wrote two memoirs, with the first, “Ticket to Exile,” detailing the initial 19 years of his life. It begins with his arrest for attempted rape after having written a note to a white female clerk that said, “I would like to know you better,” according to Peeples. This memoir is a chronicle of a small town in the Jim Crow South from the point of view of a very observant Black man, Peeples added.

His second memoir, published in his early 90s, follows his life after leaving the South, venturing through the country and entering California, Peeples said.

“It is very much about racism in America,” Peeples said. “You are seeing the obstacles he hit as he tried to be a human being but happened to be a Black person.”

Miller, however, was less interested in promoting his own work than he was in elevating other marginalized voices, according to Peeples.

Bruce Bagnell, co-host of Poetry Express, the open mic poetry venue that Miller attended regularly, said he was inspired by Miller to start writing again.

“I worked most of my life, and then all of a sudden you meet somebody who has enthusiasm and reintroduces you to that other world of art and I recognized the time was right to get back to it,” Bagnell said. “He helped me rediscover my writing, which has continued to this day.”

Bagnell said he will be hosting a Poetry Express Zoom memorial for Miller with poetry open mic Nov. 16.

Additionally, Peeples said she would really like UC Berkeley students to read Miller’s memoirs and poetry, especially if they are interested in pursuing writing.

“There is just so much to learn from him and how he lived his life,” Peeples said. “It’s such a great tool for learning how to live a good, moral and meaningful life.”

Contact Serene Chang at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @_serenechang.