Austin poet/performer talks race, fatherhood and arts in Austin


At the Austin Critics Table Awards a few months ago, poet and performer Zell Miller III was inducted into the Austin Arts Hall of Fame for a body of work that has continued to question and critique issues of race and representation in this city and throughout the country. Although Miller was unable to attend the awards ceremony, his longtime stage manager Lindsey Ervi read his speech in absentia, a fiery address that called into question the lack of diversity in the awards’ own representation of the “best” of the arts last year.

For many of the critics present, including myself, Miller’s critique was food for thought. He was correct: There was a distinct lack of representation in who we were choosing to honor. Though this was not intentional, it can’t be overlooked that a group of mostly white critics were praising mostly white artists, in large part because we had not seen or reviewed many of the productions created throughout the year by artists of color.

Miller’s latest production, “Oh Snap! … My Alien Children Are Trying to Kill Me,” plays this weekend at the Ground Floor Theatre, and I recently had the opportunity to meet with the artist and discuss the issues raised in his speech, his past work and his newest piece.

As a native Austinite, Miller has seen his fair share of awards shows, as well as his share of overlooked performances. “When those awards come out and you’re looking at the listing, you see that there are some amazing shows that were left out,” he says. “I know you guys can’t see everything, but I just feel like there’s a certain group — mostly black and brown people — that don’t get represented. So I felt like that was my opportunity to say something.”

Asking difficult questions of his audience is part of what makes Miller’s work so worthy of the Hall of Fame. His highly praised piece from a few years ago, “Hands Up Hoodies Down,” was a timely response to police brutality told from the perspective of a black man who is the father of black children.

“Oh Snap!” returns to some of the questions raised in that previous work but focuses in more tightly on the experience of raising two black children in a country where their lives are in danger every time they leave the house. The performance mixes stories both touching and comedic to explore the highs and lows of black fatherhood and the universally turbulent relationships between parents and children of every race.

As with previous works, Miller says this new piece will speak to both white and black Austinites. “My core audience is largely white,” he says. “I don’t know why that is, what that is, but it’s cool because I always feel like I can give them this message in a safe space. You’re in the theater, and you’re able to absorb it in a different way.”

In “Oh Snap!,” as in the rest of his work, Miller is an artist of the spoken and written word, and he intends to use that artistry to continue interrogating audiences about the issues that truly matter to him. “If I can get people thinking and talking, like what we did with the speech at the awards ceremony, then that’s my job as an artist,” he says.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Austin360

Wrestling with ‘Mr. Texas,’ folklorist J. Frank Dobie
Wrestling with ‘Mr. Texas,’ folklorist J. Frank Dobie

At some point, every Texas writer — or serious reader — must come to terms with “Mr. Texas.” To the extent that Austinites today recognize the name of folklorist, teacher and widely published columnist J. Frank Dobie, they might associate it with a middle school, or a freshly renovated shopping mall at the base of a dormitory...
Recipe of the Week: Love corn? How to make black bean-filled arepas
Recipe of the Week: Love corn? How to make black bean-filled arepas

A few weeks ago, we ran a recipe for Swedish pancakes, but any pancake-lover knows that the dish is popular beyond Scandinavia and even Europe. Sudi Pigott’s book “Flipping Good Pancakes: Pancakes from Around the World” (Kyle Books, $16.99) features flatbreads, blini, socca, latkes and more, and not all of them are sweet. Pigott has...
Maybe I’m amazed at this Barton Hills Choir ‘Abbey Road’ video
Maybe I’m amazed at this Barton Hills Choir ‘Abbey Road’ video

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ePlWa04fFlo&w=492&h=277] It’s still two weeks before Paul McCartney arrives in town for the first of two concerts in Zilker Park as part of the Austin City Limits Music Festival, but the Barton Hills Choir is ready: They’ll be tackling the ambitious side two medley of the ...
Austin is one of the most tourist-friendly cities in America, according to this list
Austin is one of the most tourist-friendly cities in America, according to this list

Some locals may whisper “don’t move here” under their breath to tourists, but that doesn’t stop them from coming. Austin has made yet another list, this time ranked as one of the most tourist-friendly cities in America by travel website Expedia. RELATED: Austin named best travel destination for solo...
6 places to visit completely for free during Austin Museum Day this weekend
6 places to visit completely for free during Austin Museum Day this weekend

You might be surprised by the number of museums in Austin — institutions dedicated to a range of subjects, from art to history to science, even music (of course). And this weekend is the best possible time to explore one or more of them: Austin Museum Day, on Sept. 23, offers free admission and, in some cases, special activities at...
More Stories