SH. (SHAYE) MILLER (October 25, 1895-May 10, 1958)
He was born in the village of Filipovitsh (Pylypovychi), near Zvihil (Novohrad-Volynskyy), Ukraine. He studied with tutors, later Talmud and commentators in the Zvihil yeshiva. He also learned Russian and secular subjects as an external student. In 1912 he made his way to the United States. He initially lived in New York, doing unskilled labor, and at the same time studying English and over time mastered bookkeeping. In 1917 he debuted in print with a story in Fraye arbeter-shtime (Free voice of labor) in New York, and from that time he published stories as well in Der idisher kemfer (The Jewish fighter), Di tsayt (The times), Di tsukunft (The future), Der hamer (The hammer), Kinder-zhurnal (Children’s magazine), Yidishe kultur (Jewish culture), Di vokh (The week), Zamlbikher (Anthologies), and the weekly Kultur (Culture); and in the daily newspapers: Der tog (The day), Morgn-zhurnal (Morning journal), and Frayhayt (Freedom), among others, in New York. Over the years 1918-1921, he was regular contributor to the daily Idishe velt (Jewish world) in Cleveland, in which, aside from editorial board work, he published feature pieces under such pen names as: Motye and Shayke Fayfer. He also published poetry under such pseudonyms as: Sh-e, Shin, and Y. Magister. He prepared translations from world literature and published them under the pen names: Ben Amots, Abramovitsh, and others. Among his translations were: Frilings dervakhn (Spring awakening [original: Frühlings Erwachen]) by Frank Wedekind, Shvaygn (To be silent) by Maurice Maeterlinck, Der vabli (The Wobbly [original: Der Wobbly]) by B. Traven—all published in Fraye arbeter-shtime; and Tshitra (Chitra) by Rabindranath Tagore, which was published in Shriften (Writings) 7 (New York). He also published his stories in: the daily newspaper Arbeter velt (Workers’ world) in Chicago; the monthly Shikage (Chicago); Detroyter vokhnblat (Detroit weekly newspaper); the quarterly Pasifik (Pacific) in Los Angeles; and Di goldene keyt (The golden chain) in Tel Aviv; among others. He brought out his first collection Ertseylungen (Stories) (Cleveland: Fraynt, 1921), 312 pp. Due to poor health, in 1922 he settled in Los Angeles, California, where he lived and wrote, and where he was active in the community until the end of his life. Miller’s subsequent books include: Bleter faln (Leaves fall) (Los Angeles, 1926), 306 pp., including his long story “Khevle moves” (Death pangs), 205 pp., and seven shorter stories—this book was held in high esteem throughout the Yiddish reading world; Di shmalts-grub (Striking it rich) (Vilna: B. Kletskin; Los Angeles: Kultur gezelshaft, 1933), 415 pp.; A blyask af tog (The glare of day) (Vilna: B. Kletskin, 1935), 274 pp.; Motivn (Motifs) (Los Angeles: Kultur gezelshaft, 1940), 284 pp., which won the literary prize from IKUF (Jewish Cultural Association); Royt un shvarts (Red and black) (Los Angeles: Sh. Miller Book Committee, 1945), 318 pp., written during the bloody years of WWII; Shtoyb (Dust) (Los Angeles: Sh. Miller Book Committee, 1948), 349 pp.; Dor hamidber (Generation of the desert), an autobiographical novel (Los Angeles: Sh. Miller Book Committee, 1951), 535 pp.; In di shvartse pintelekh (In the world of letters) (Los Angeles: Sh. Miller Book Committee, 1953), 383 pp.—twenty-one stories which depict the world of Jewish intellectuals: poets, novelists, critics, and actors. “Sh. Miller,” wrote Kh. Sh. Kazdan, “narrates for us in his book as a…writer with varying interests and a broad observational capacity, with an eye for today and for the future…. With wisdom he penetrates the soul of the intellectual, [and] with love he touches the common man.”
Over the last 10-15 years of his life, Miller suffered from a severe chronic illness and only rarely left his home. However, driven by the impatience of an artist who knew his mission as a writer, he wrote every day, and when he was able to leave his home, he walked to the library to see the books and periodicals of the wide world. The last book of stories in Miller’s lifetime was Nekhtn (Yesterday) (Los Angeles: Sh. Miller Book Committee, 1956), 384 pp. This was the eleventh book with which he carefully occupied himself and to which he paid close attention, so that it would appear tidy in print, sincere and at the same modest. In 1957 this volume received the Stoliar Prize in Buenos Aires. “Nekhtn had, first and foremost for Miller,” noted Shloyme Bikl, “a psychological, a psychoanalytic content. Psychoanalytical in the sense that the mental positions of his figures were formed with a precision that borders on science; and psychoanalytic also in that not a single word in the dialogue of Miller’s protagonists is accidental. Behind each word that Miller utters today tells a great deal about yesterday.” For many years Miller was a close friend of Lamed Shapiro, and after the latter’s death he published his writings: L. Shapiro, Ksovim (Writings) (Los Angeles, 1949). In the spring of 1958 he was brought to City of Hope, a well-known institution for older, ill persons near to Los Angeles, where he died just shy of sixty-three years of age. After his passing, the “Sh. Miller Book Committee” in Los Angeles published two of his books: Khay-gelebt (It’s a great life) (1959), 346 pp., which contains fifteen stories and a collection of his essays; and Skeptishe makhshoves (Skeptical thoughts) (1959), 343 pp., with a bibliography compiled by Yefim Yeshurin. “Three things,” wrote Y. Rapoport, “stare readers of Sh. Miller’s Skeptishe makhshoves in the face: The author can both write and think, and above all he has the courage to say in the most direct manner, without beating around the bush, what he is thinking, what he takes to be the truth, in what he entertains doubts and in what he is thoroughly heretical. These constitute three crowns to which not every writer among us measures up.” His death was sad for Yiddish literary criticism as well as for readers of Yiddish literature. “What Sh. Miller showed he had accomplished,” noted Yankev Glatshteyn, “in his struggle with a trembling life is an immense, valuable heritage and an important part of our young Yiddish creativity on American terrain. People will frequently return to Miller’s stories and in them find ever more artistic surprises.”
Sources: Zalmen Reysen, Leksikon, vol. 2; Zalmen Zilbertsvayg, Leksikon fun yidishn teater (Handbook of the Yiddish theater), vol. 2 (New York, 1934); Avrom Reyzen, in Di feder (New York) (autumn 1933; winter 1936; 1942; 1949); Shmuel Niger, in Tog (New York) (September 9, 1934; October 20, 1935; July 5, 1936; August 28, 1938; February 4, 1940; February 18, 1940; August 22, 1943; December 23, 1945; May 25, 1947; September 4, 1949); Niger, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) (December 20, 1953); September 5, 1954); Niger, in Algemeyne entsiklopedye (General encyclopedia), “Yidn 3” (New York, 1942), col. 170; Niger, Dertseylers un romanistn (Storytellers and novelists) (New York, 1946), p. 133; A. Glants-Leyeles, in Tog (January 9, 1935; November 15, 1947; January 8, 1948); Glants-Leyeles, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (July 20, 1957; May 14, 1958); Dr. A. Mukdoni, in Morgn-zhurnal (New York) (May 8, 1935; July 8, 1945; April 7, 1946; February 2, 1947; January 9, 1949; March 18, 1951); Mukdoni, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (August 4, 1957); Mukdoni, in Di goldene keyt (Tel Aviv) 20 (1954); Mukdoni, In varshe un in lodzh (In Warsaw and in Lodz), vol. 1 (Buenos Aires, 1955); Mukdoni, in Di tsukunft (New York) (February 1957); A. Tabatshnik, in Signal (New York) (July 1936); N. Mayzil, in Yidishe kultur (New York) (January 1939; May 1943); Mayzil, in Tog (March 2, 1939); Mayzil, Doyres un tkufes in der yidisher literatur, bletlekh tsu der geshikhte un tsu der kharakteristik fun der yidisher literatur (Generations and eras in Yiddish literature, on the history and the character of Yiddish literature) (New York, 1942); H. Leivick, in Tog (August 9, 1941; November 18, 1945); Kh. Sh. Kazdan, in Zamlbikher (New York) 6 (1945); Kazdan, in Unzer tsayt (New York) (February 1957); Y. Botoshanski, in Di prese (Buenos Aires) (June 19, 1946; February 5, 1947; December 31, 1947; June 27, 1950; February 25, 1951; February 26, 1951; December 31, 1957; May 13, 1958); Botoshanski, in Davke (Buenos Aires) (October-December 1949), pp. 200-12; Botoshanski, in Pshat, perushim af yidish shrayber (Literal sense, commentaries on Yiddish writers) (Buenos Aires, 1952), pp. 355-99; Yankev Glatshteyn, in Idisher kemfer (New York) (January 4, 1946; January 23, 1948; June 20, 1958); Glatshteyn, In tokh genumen (In essence) (New York, 1956), pp. 412-18; Glatshteyn, In tokh genumen, vol. 2 (Buenos Aires, 1960), pp. 328-33; Yoyel Entin, in Idisher kemfer (May 31, 1946; September 21, 1951; October 8, 1954; October 15, 1954; October 22, 1954; April 26, 1957; May 10, 1957; May 17, 1957; September 14, 1957); Entin, in Farband-shtime (New York) (May 1949); Elye Shulman, in Getseltn (New York) (March-April 1946); Avrom Shulman, Oyfboy (Melbourne) (June 1946); A. Shulman, in Der veker (New York) (June 1957); A. Shulman, in Di shtime (Paris) (July 15-16, 1957); Meylekh Ravitsh, in Keneder odler (Montreal) (August 19, 1946; October 30, 1958); Ravitsh, in Di prese (October 2, 1946; March 23, 1956); Ravitsh, in Der veg (Mexico City) (March 15, 1947); Ravitsh, in Di goldene keyt 18 (1954), p. 165; Ravitsh, in Letste nayes (Tel Aviv) (October 7, 1955); Ravitsh, in Di tsukunft (July-August 1958); Moyshe Shtarkman, in Di tsukunft (April 1948); Shtarkman, in Algemeyne entsiklopedye, “Yidn 5” (New York, 1957), p. 134; N. B. Minkov, in Di tsukunft (January 1953; December 1954); A. A. Robak, in Fraye arbeter-shtime (New York) (December 14, 1956; June 15, 1958); B. Ts. Goldberg, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (May 20, 1956); Y. Mestel, in Yidishe kultur (December 1957); Sh. Rozhanski, in Yidishe tsaytung (Buenos Aires) (September 1, 1957); Shloyme Bikl, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (August 4, 1957; August 3, 1958); Bikl, Shrayber fun mayn dor (Writers of my generation) (New York, 1958), pp, 327-34; Y. Yonasovitsh, in Di prese (May 13, 1958; May 14, 1958); Y. Rapoport, in Di tsukunft (February 1960); M. Daytsh, in Idisher kemfer (January 29, 1960); M. Yofe, in Idisher kemfer (November 28, 1958); Zalmen Reyzen archive in YIVO (New York); collection of P. Shvarts’s archive of newspaper clippings at YIVO; information from Zalmen Zilbertsvayg and Yankev Zinger; obituary notices and articles in the Yiddish press; N. B. Minkoff, in Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 7 (New York, 1942), p. 562; J. Shatzky, in In Jewish Bookland (New York) (March 1951; February 1954).
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