Former professor receives literary honor


The Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame bestowed another honor onto a well-known former WKU professor.

Jim Wayne Miller joined the ranks of other notable Kentucky authors when he was inducted on Wednesday night at The Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington. 

The North Carolina native spent 33 years as a professor of German language and literature until his 1996 death. His poetry garnered countless accolades and praise, but according to his wife and fellow English professor Mary Ellen Miller, none hold a candle to this induction.

“I’m very elated,” she said. “I really do think it was the most prestigious award he ever received.”

To be eligible, writers must be deceased, published, someone whose writing is of enduring stature and connected in a significant way to Kentucky.

The only exception to eligibility requirements in this class was Wendell Berry, a contemporary of Miller who has frequented WKU to read his works. 

“Wendell Berry’s name is unusual in that he’s the only living writer, and this year for whatever reason they allowed to admit one living writer,” Mary Ellen Miller noted. “I don’t know if they’ll make that a practice or just this one time, but I’m awfully glad.”

Other inductees included Berry, gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, African-American poet Effie Waller Smith, novelist Elizabeth Hardwick and writer/translator Guy Davenport. 

“The people on that list are extremely impressive,” Mary Ellen Miller said. “They’re thought-provoking and it brings back a lot of memories. I’m just delighted.”

The hall of fame nominees go through three rounds of review. The general public can nominate writers, which are then sifted through a recommendation committee comprised of former state poets laureate. The Carnegie Center’s Hall of Fame Creation Committee makes the final selection. 

Mary Ellen Miller accepted the award on her late husband’s behalf and read two poems written by her spouse.

“I’ve narrowed it down to two poems because it’s a very happy occasion,” she said Tuesday.

Jim Miller’s writing continues to inspire WKU students, especially seen in the submissions for the Jim Wayne Miller Poetry Contest held by the English department each year.

Senior Savannah Osbourn of Winchester submitted a free verse poem to the contest last year and received an honorable mention. 

“I think it’s so encouraging to the students that someone so impressive came from a small college like WKU,” the creative writing and French double-major said. 

Osbourn said she enjoyed Mary Ellen Miller’s creative writing course and had always wanted to submit to the contest. 

“We students take for granted that we have people like Dr. Miller here. It really connects you to the history of Kentucky.”

Kentucky Educational Television recorded the induction ceremony to be aired at a later date.