2014 Solomon-Tenenbaum Lecture
My Memoirs Made Me Jewish: Family, Memory, and the Writing Self
Nancy K. Miller
Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature, City University of New York Graduate Center
A decade after her father’s death, Nancy K. Miller learned that her father’s mother had bought a small parcel of land in Palestine during the British Mandate. This surprising revelation led Miller to discover how entangled her family roots were with the massive migration of Jews to the United States in the early twentieth century. In the course of her research, as she describes it in What They Saved (her first memoir), Miller realized that her ancestors’ legacy had shaped her life in ways she had never suspected. Even her student years in 1960s France, she saw, had been filtered through the Jewishness she thought she had left behind in Manhattan along with her parents. Breathless (her most recent memoir) chronicles the contradictions of that coming-of-age moment in Paris. “My Memoirs Made me Jewish” explores how memoir-writing enabled Miller to understand her Jewish identity in a way unknown to her before. With richness of content, passion, and humor, Miller leads us to a new appreciation of the importance of writing and of how the act itself of narrating can illuminate not only the history we’ve inherited but also our experience in the present.
Nancy K. Miller is the author or editor of more than a dozen books. A well-known feminist scholar, Miller has published family memoirs, personal essays, and literary criticism. She is a Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the Graduate Center, CUNY, where she teaches classes in memoir, graphic novel, and women’s studies.
Miller lectures widely, both nationally and internationally, and her work is anthologized in popular volumes on autobiography and collections of feminist essays. She also co-edits the Gender and Culture series at Columbia University Press, which she co-founded in 1983 with the late Carolyn Heilbrun.
After graduating from Barnard College, Miller moved to Paris to study French literature and complete a master’s degree. Several years later, Miller returned to New York to reinvent herself as an academic and writer.
Links to Miller's memoirs: