Ethelbert Miller meets with students at Thurgood Marshall Academy

E. Ethelbert Miller is the kind of person who knows something about everything. On our ride over to Thurgood Marshall Academy in Anacostia, we discussed, in no particular order, Valentine’s Day, the prison-industrial complex, college basketball, and Frederick Douglass. And once we arrived, Miller’s discussion with the students who had read his poetry collection How We Sleep on the Nights We Don’t Make Love was equally wide-ranging. Here are a few of the discussion’s highlights.

On being read during Black History Month:

“When I started out, something that was very important to me at the time was identifying as a black writer. I read a lot, I learned the tradition… I know now that I would not be here if not for this history. I am a part of that tradition.”

On running with the wrong crowd: 

“Your first week on a college campus is key. You have to be careful who you hang out with; you don’t want to get caught up with the wrong kind of people. When I got to Howard University, I got caught up with the militants. I met some guy from Philadelphia who was running around with a gun. I wanted to do something, to make a change, but I didn’t want to shoot anyone. So, I started to hang out with the artists.”

On education:

“If you enter a classroom and then leave and nothing takes place, that’s not an education. You have to claim education. You have to do the heavy lifting.”

— Ariel Martino