In 2000, Miller held a public interview with University English Prof. Enoch Brater. The transcript of the interview was published by Brater in a recent compilation of articles about Miller. Here are two excerpts:
Enoch Brater: Let’s begin with Ann Arbor. Why did you come to study at the University of Michigan? Why didn’t someone like you go to City College in New York, which would have been a very logical path in the middle of the Depression?
Arthur Miller: Well, I did go to City College for about three weeks in the evening; I was working during the daytime. But I couldn’t stay awake, so I decided I’d work for a few years and make enough money to go to school in the daytime. I was a little better at staying awake in the daytime. Anyway, coming to Michigan was partly because at that time it was probably the only university in the United States that had an active interest in creative writing. At least I knew of no other. There was that, and there was also that the tuition was so cheap, and money was difficult to come by. So those are the reasons.
EB: Did your family think it was odd that you were coming all the way to the Midwest, leaving New York and all that world behind you?
AM: I looked at it as a kind of adventure. I thought of it as the Wild West. I was amazed that in Detroit they had the same cars we had in New York! For a young guy, it was a great adventure. People didn’t jump into airplanes in those days and fly off to some place. Moving around was a good deal more difficult.
EB: When you were a student here, how often did you get back to New York?
AM: I got back during the Christmas vacation, and that was about it. I usually had to work during the spring vacation, and in fact that’s when I wrote my first play. So I got back once each year.
EB: Tell us about The Michigan Daily. Why did you stop writing for the Daily?
AM: Well, because I started to win prizes for my plays, and I wanted to spend more time writing plays. I lost my impulse to do journalism because I tended to want to make the stories better, and that left fact behind a good deal of the time. I found I wasn’t really made to be a reporter. The only thing about journalism was that they had a payroll, and that wasn’t the case in the theater. You were completely on your own there and could easily starve to death, but I decided to pursue the theatre because I loved it.
Audience Member 2: My question is this; Because of your great courage during the McCarthy era, when you were summoned before the House Un-American Activities Committee did you have a certain righteous indignation? Where did you find the courage to confront bullies like those who were sticking up for McCarthy and following the crowd and the prevalent political times? Or did you have thoughts like other people would in your position, such as how is this going to affect my career? What can they do to me? What were your feelings right before you were forced to go before the committee?
AM: First of all, I was not dependent professionally on any corporation or big organization for my livelihood, unlike people who worked in Hollywood. The blacklist on Broadway theater in New York existed, but it was very spasmodic and weak, and I could always go back and write a play unless they put me in jail. So there was that. People who are totally dependent on the film studio know that their career was over if they resisted these investigations, and that’s terribly important. I suppose by the time 1956 rolled around, which was the time that I got sucked into it, I’d already felt as I did for twenty years or more. Professor Brater earlier read from my testimony and from my editorials at The Michigan Daily that I was a confirmed anti-Fascist; and I felt that the civilization could go under if we had dictatorship, and that was a feeling I had for two decades by the time I was called. So I didn’t feel I had much choice in the matter. But as I would emphasize again, I could follow through on my feelings because I knew I could always sit down at the typewriter and write a play which a screenwriter could not do or an actor or a director who worked on films.
Audience Member 3: I was wondering what playwrights and possibly screenwriters you enjoy reading and what people you would recommend for a young playwright to be reading nowadays.
AM: If I were to try to educate anybody, I would start with the Greeks and Shakespeare and Ibsen and Strindberg, and I could name probably thirty other people in contemporary terms, you should know what Brecht was up to, what some of our contemporary writers are doing. The British writers at the moment are terrific dramatists. The variety is endless. There are many, many ways to attack a dramatic problem, and offhand it would be hard for me to emphasize one over the other.
Transcript taken from “Arthur Miller’s America,” courtesy of Enoch Brater and the University of Michigan Press.