Josephine Miles

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Josephine Miles

Josephine Louise Miles (June 11, 1911 – May 12, 1985) was an American poet and literary critic; the first woman tenured in the English Department at the University of California, Berkeley.[1] She wrote over a dozen books of poetry and several works of criticism.

Miles was born in Chicago, in 1911. When she was young, her family moved to Southern California.[1] Due to disabling arthritis, she was educated at home by tutors, but was able to graduate from Los Angeles High School in a class that included the composer John Cage.[2]

Miles attended the University of California, Los Angeles, where she earned a bachelor's degree in English literature before moving to the University of California, Berkeley to pursue a doctorate. She received a Fellowship from the American Association of University Women in 1939. Her dissertation work on Wordsworth led to Wordsworth and the Vocabulary of Emotion, published in 1942.[3]

In her early career, Miles became a foundational scholar of quantitative and computational methods in the humanities.[4] During the 1930s and 1940s, she conducted quantitative stylistic research projects, first on "the adjectives favored by Romantic poets" and second on "the phrasal forms of the poetry of the 1640s, 1740s, and 1840s."[4] In the 1950s, she became director of project creating a Concordance to the Poetical Works of John Dryden. The project had previously been based in index cards, but Miles worked with the Electrical Engineering department at the University of California at Berkeley to complete the concordance using punched cards and card-reading computers. After six years of work by a team including Miles, female graduate students, and female punch card operators, the concordance with published.[4] Rachel Sagner Buurma and Laura Heffernan describe this as "possibly the first literary concordance to use machine methods"; it was published seventeen years before the first volume of Roberto Busa's Index Thomisticus, a work widely credited with this first.[4]

In 1964, she was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[5] She remained in Berkeley for the rest of her life, receiving many highly coveted fellowships and awards until her death in May 1985. She was the first woman to receive tenure in the English Department at Berkeley and, at the time of her death, held the position of University Professor—one of the rarest and most prestigious honors in academic life.[1]

She was fascinated with Beat poetry, and was both a host and critic to many Beat poets from her chair at Berkeley. Most notably, she helped Allen Ginsberg publish Howl by recommending it to Richard Eberhart, who published an article in the New York Times praising the poem. In 1974, she founded the internationally distributed Berkeley Poetry Review on the U.C. Berkeley campus.[6] Miles mentored many young poets, including Jack Spicer, Robin Blaser, Diane Wakoski, Diana O'Hehir, William Stafford, and A. R. Ammons.[1]

In reference to her lifelong disability, Thom Gunn recollected that “The unavoidable first fact about Josephine Miles was physical. As a young child she contracted a form of degenerative arthritis so severe that it left her limbs deformed and crippled. As a result, she could not be left alone in a house, she could not handle a mug...she could not use a typewriter; and she could neither walk nor operate a wheelchair.”[7] Miles bequeathed her Berkeley home to the University of California, which offers the house for use by the visiting Roberta C. Holloway Lecturer in the Practice of Poetry.

The PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Literary Award was established in her honor to recognize achievement in multicultural literature.


  1. ^ a b c d "Josephine Miles, English: Berkeley". Calisphere, University of California. Retrieved October 15, 2012.
  2. ^ "Interview conducted at the Josephine Miles house 1977-1979".
  3. ^ Miles, Josephine (1976). Wordsworth and the vocabulary of emotion. New York: Octagon Books. ISBN 978-0-374-95681-3.
  4. ^ a b c d "Search and Replace: Josephine Miles and the Origins of Distant Reading". Modernism / Modernity Print+. 3 (1). 2018-04-11. Retrieved 2018-08-17.
  5. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter M" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 25, 2014.
  6. ^ *Knight, Brenda, ed. "Josephine Miles - Women of the Beat Generation". Biography. Retrieved October 18, 2012.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  7. ^ Gunn, Thom (June–July 1985). "In Memoriam: Josephine Miles". California Monthly 95:6:29.

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