“My work is anchored in the belief that healing can take place in the interactive space between the reader and the writer.”
Unlike many writers, Terry Miller did not grow up with books. Rather, she was raised in a deeply troubled home where books were “not high on the priority list.” There was no Dr. Seuss or beloved childhood classics like Charlotte’s Web or Goodnight Moon. “I did not learn to read for pleasure until long into my adulthood. When I did, I was hooked.” And upon discovering the world of books, Miller “read for both the child within me . . . and the young woman I was becoming. I am an accidental writer. Reading taught me how to write.”
Miller grew up in 1950s Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where “the black and gritty smoke from the steel works was as dark and biting as the characters I encountered in this mid-century mill town.” Her family lived in the city’s Arlington Heights Projects, and (with two brothers) she was raised by a single mother in a strife-filled home. But the cycle of poverty, abuse, and addiction that characterized her life was broken when – at age 30 – Miller finally went to college. She attended the University of Pittsburgh, training as a social worker and community organizer and earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work. For the next 23 years, she led a policy center there (the Institute of Politics), founded nonprofit organizations dedicated to recovery and serving at-risk populations, and won numerous accolades.
The accomplished community leader and activist used her civic engagement as a pathway to recovery. At the Institute, Miller also worked as a writer and editor and continued to publish her own recovery-oriented nonfiction. “My philosophy of writing is to honestly write my story to be of service to my readers.” In 2021 Miller received the Individual Artist Award for Nonfiction granted by the Delaware Division of the Arts, in partnership with the National Endowments for the Arts. Her submission for the Fellowship was an excerpt from her full-length work Behind God’s Back: Finding Hope in Hardship. In 2016, she was a finalist for the Western Pennsylvania Press Club Golden Quill Award.
Miller has been working on Behind God’s Back for fifteen years, but now it is complete. “Writing memoir is very demanding, [requiring] by choice that I put an unrelenting lens on particularly traumatic aspects of my life.” But creating the book has also rewarded Miller with “a journey home to myself . . . to reclaim my spiritual essence and be of service to others.” She plans to use her Fellowship award to “engage nonprofits that work to address the critical community and personal issues I address in the book.”
Recovery memoirs that are well done will show the beauty and healing that comes out of adversity or pain. I believe Behind God’s Back does this. Going beyond offering a story about childhood trauma, or a passing promise of hope, readers are invited to participate in a deeper healing by following my transformation from insurmountable traumas to a recovering woman effecting positive, tangible change in her community. Her book highlights the importance of integrating community, society, and meaningful human relationships to heal personally, while cultivating the resources to be of service to others, when we are ready, and sometimes, even when we are still healing.
Miller is an inspirational speaker and has presented at national and local conferences and special events on issues of race, gender and public policy, sexual abuse, substance use disorder, poverty and food insecurity, and healing from childhood trauma. A true visionary whose personal life is a testimony to the human spirit, her compelling story inspires audiences to look at the big picture of their own lives, encouraging them to aspire to be the best version of themselves possible.