Poetic Justice

The poet Vassar Miller, we're happy to report, is alive and well and the subject of two tributes this week.

Miller was profiled in a story in the November 17 Press, "Life of a Poet," which detailed the circumstances that had led the esteemed 70-year-old author to the brink of destitution.

As the story reported, years of poor financial management and deteriorating health had left Miller's fortunes in the hands of Harris County Social Services, named by a probate court as guardian of her estate, and longtime family friend Sallie Wright, who had been awarded guardianship of Miller's person. At issue, among other things, was Miller's ability to remain in her home of 26 years and the questionable benefit to Miller of the split guardianship.

The story prompted a flood of phone calls and letters from the poet's friends and admirers -- many of whom had been unaware of her plight -- wanting to know how the issue was finally settled and how, if at all, they might help.

In late December, Probate Judge James Scanlan agreed that the split guardianship was untenable and accepted the resignations of both Harris County Social Services and Wright, appointing attorney Martha Failing to serve as Miller's lone guardian. Shortly afterward, Miller was sent to a local hospital suffering from pneumonia. Upon her release some six weeks ago, she was admitted to Windsor Place nursing home, where she presently resides.

According to Failing, Miller's Montrose home is for sale and a purchase offer under consideration, with proceeds to be dedicated to paying Miller's living expenses. At Windsor Place, the poet receives physical and speech therapy, and a recent visit found her reading spy novels and eager to talk with visitors. She's also anxious to start work on her autobiography, a task for which she requires volunteers to take dictation.

In an effort to help, Brazos Bookstore is hosting a fundraising evening on Tuesday, February 28, featuring readings of the poet's work by Max Apple, Rosellen Brown and Leon Hale, among others, and a buffet dinner for a minimum contribution of $100, with all donations earmarked specifically for assistance in Miller's literary endeavors. Anyone interested in attending and/or contributing should call Brazos Bookstore for information.

And on Friday, February 24, from 8-9 p.m., the Bookstop on Shepherd hosts a non-fundraising tribute to Miller's work, featuring readings by local writers.

Miller, health permitting, plans to attend both events.

-- Brad Tyer

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Brad Tyer