Renowned playwright Arthur Miller said he was not interested in
theatre when he came to the University in the 1930s.

Beth Dykstra
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Arthur Miller speaks with visiting Prof. Mark Lamos yesterday at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater about his experiences as a University student in the 1930s, his beginnings as a journalist for The Michigan Daily and the curr

Miller, arguably the University’s most famous alum in the
literary field, told a sold-out Lydia Mendelssohn Theater yesterday
about how his experiences in Ann Arbor shaped his life and
work.

The octogenarian author, whose works include “Death of a
Salesman” and “The Crucible,” said the
University’s Avery Hopwood award was a rare academic
acknowledgement of creative writers when he won two of them in the
1930s.

“In those days … creative writing in college was
not really accepted as an academic course — it was too close
to life,” he said. “Harvard had a course in playwriting
… they got rid of it, because they were embarrassed.

“This place seemed, because of the Hopwood award, to be
taking writing seriously.”

Miller said he was interesting in writing when he arrived in Ann
Arbor, but had not yet acquired a taste for the theatre.

“I was trying to write stories, unsuccessfully,” he
said. “When I got here I hadn’t seen any plays to speak
of, maybe two or three plays in my life.”

But after being introduced to the theatre in Ann Arbor and later
in New York City, Miller said he came to appreciate plays for their
ability to confront the realities of human life.

“In the ‘30s, the theatre in New York was exploding
… for the first time probably in its history it was
reflecting real life, which was the (Great) Depression,” he
said. “Writing plays seemed to be the best way to confront
the audience, to speak about what we were feeling. … (Prose)
seemed to be remote and distant in comparison.”

Miller also recalled his experiences working as a reporter and
editor for The Michigan Daily as it became more radical during the
Great Depression.

“The Michigan Daily had traditionally been in the hands of
fraternities, which tend to be very conservative,” he said.
“People were going bankrupt — they were looking for
another voice.”

When he joined the newspaper in his sophomore year, Miller said,
it was just beginning to gain attention from national wire services
for its reporting on professors who were expressing new political
and economic views.

“We began to really report what was happening,”
Miller said. “The Daily was becoming a fairly widespread
newspaper, rather than a campus paper.”

Addressing national and global issues as well as personal ones,
Miller criticized extremists on both sides of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, expressed worries about the Bush
administration’s environmental stance and examined the role
of “acting” in American politics.

“We’re in the hands of actors … our politics
now is more about acting than issues or anything else,” he
said. “I often wonder what would Lincoln look like on
TV.”

The audience included hundreds of students and theatre
enthusiasts from Ann Arbor and elsewhere. Roy Worhees, a high
school English teacher, came with his wife from St. Clair Shores to
see Miller.

“For 88 years old, I was surprised he had the wit and
insight and intelligence about global situations of a person half
his age,” Worhees said. “He seemed to enjoy his
audience as much as his audience enjoyed him.”

LSA junior Jacob Roberts said he was a longtime fan of
Miller’s work.

“This is a big moment for me,” he said. “
‘Death of a Salesman’ means a lot to me.”

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