Surprised to Be a Writer: Martha Miller ’08
Martha Miller BFA ‘08 MFA ‘12 is no stranger to the creative world. Before she made her way to Converse, Martha spent 16 years as a professional cake decorator, relishing in the joy of her brides’ faces when they saw their wedding cakes for the first time. Martha is an equal opportunity art lover, from painting and drawing to the literary arts.
While earning an Associate’s degree at Greenville Technical College, Martha’s professor recognized Martha’s budding writing skills, and suggested she explore the writing program at Converse. Martha began researching the Converse II program, a college experience tailored to adult women 24 or older, and quickly realized it was the place for her.
Martha earned her BFA and MFA in Creative Writing from Converse. While there she earned the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Intro Award for Poetry, as well as Converse’s Lykes Award for short fiction. Afterward she took her skills to Guatemala and Kenya, where as a missionary she worked with local burgeoning writers, guiding them to shape their stories into compelling narratives for publication. Today she’s back in her native South Carolina and has edited two books for a self-published pastor.
“I could never have guessed how perfect the Converse II program would be for me. I was encouraged by the fact that there would be other students in my classes who were older than traditional students. It was also so affordable. That was truly amazing and definitely the deciding factor for my family.
“I take advantage of every opportunity to tell other women, especially women who dream of going back to college in later years, that there’s no better choice than Converse.”
I figured I would be like an outsider in classes because of my age (I was 47 when I started there), and I felt a little nervous of how the other students would receive me. But the traditional students just made me feel like I was one of them all. And I loved it. I made so many lasting friendships with those young women and also with other Converse II students. I take advantage of every opportunity to tell other women, especially women who dream of going back to college in later years, that there’s no better choice than Converse.”
On winning the AWP Intro Award for Poetry
“I submitted the poem [Duffy’s Inferno] at the recommendation of Professor Mulkey. Several of us in the creative writing program did submit—and honestly, I never expected to hear about it again. It just felt good to submit something that I had written. I think submitting that poem gave me that “I’m a real artist” feeling again, like the wedding cakes did. So, when the letter came saying that I’d won, I was flabbergasted. One of the best moments of my life will always be writing to Rick Mulkey to tell him that I’d received that letter.”
The Inspiration Behind Duffy’s Inferno
“My father was the inspiration. He had to quit school in the second grade to help support his family…that was 1922, and child labor laws were not well enforced. His first job was sweeper in the weave room of the cotton mill in Piedmont, and part of the job was going underneath the weaving looms and grabbing clumps of loose cotton called “slugs” that would cause the looms to shut down if they were caught in the threads. The voice in the poem is telling how it is to work in that hot, hot room and how terrifying it is to crawl under the looms. But, you know, his family was one of many that lived in deep poverty in pre-Depression South Carolina. He was just doing what had to be done.”
A Poetry Convert
“I wasn’t even fond of poetry before taking poetry classes at Converse. The first I took was with Diane Fischer, who was a writer in residence that year. I remember telling her that I didn’t really care for poetry at the onset of the class. Nothing like brutal honesty. Her response was, “Then we will set a goal for you to find an appreciation for the art.” And Oh Boy! Did I! By the end of that class, I was absolutely converted. All of the creative writing classes I took at Converse were that kind of enriching experience. But I really think my forte is short stories. I won the Lykes Award for short stories at Converse.”
Her Calling to Kenya
“In 2010 I went to Kenya for six weeks to work with a missionary organization called Kwale International Ministries. We worked with an orphanage and school doing all sorts of things. We dug a well, planted some trees, held a teachers’ conference/retreat and had an awesome time getting to meet some really wonderful people. They speak English there so it was great privilege to work with some of the students and their creative writing. They were very mature for their ages and their insights deep.
We held a festival of sorts at the school one day. That was the day I did face painting. It’s sort of peculiar that I had to be careful what animals I painted on their faces because some Kenyan tribes revere one animal and other tribes revere others, so if I painted an opposing tribes animal, the children would come back and ask–so politely–if I would wash it off and paint something else. That’s something I never encountered on this side of the world: tribal preferences.”
Her Favorite Pastime
“I quilt. I’m addicted to quilting. It’s simple. It’s therapeutic. It’s fulfilling. And it keeps me warm in the winter.”
On the Power of a Women’s College
“Very quickly I began to realize how valuable that aspect of education at Converse is. I hope most of the women there realize it. It’s empowering! I mean that. I know there are other benefits, because for one thing there is a powerful sisterhood that develops among the women there.
“I think that sisterhood creates an encouraging, nurturing environment.”
I think that sisterhood creates an encouraging, nurturing environment. There might be some competition, but I never saw it. What I did see was students sharing in the victories and defeats of other students, and mentoring other students. There is a perfect environment for growth there.”