Fulbright Scholar Cathleen Miller on her time at Manchester and her greatest inspiration
Cathleen (Cathy) Miller, a Fulbright Award recipient at The University of Manchester, is a Professor of English at San Jose State University, where she teaches creative non-fiction in their Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing programme, directs the Center for Literary Arts and acts as Editor-in-Chief of 150-year-old Reed Magazine.
Here, she tells us about her time at Manchester and her upcoming Literature Live event.
What prompted you to apply to Manchester for a Fulbright Scholarship?
I knew I wanted to do a Fulbright in the UK and I was looking for a university that offered creative writing.
The huge plus for Manchester was the new post of Distinguished Chair of the Humanities, which is known as a senior scholar position. These are very rare, and I was quite flattered to be the first person to hold this title at the University.
What would you say has been the most rewarding part of your time here and what are your highlights so far?
I am a traveller and travel writer, an occupation which has taken me all over the globe. But it’s a completely different experience to parachute into a foreign country for a week versus spending six months in one and gaining a deeper understanding of the culture. This, of course, is what the Fulbright program was designed to do, the concept of cultural exchange.
So, the most rewarding part has been the people I’ve met here from all walks of life - from immigrant asylum seekers to MPs. To be here during Brexit adds another historical dimension.
For me, the highlights have been opportunities we’ve received by virtue of being Fulbrighters, a chance to meet MPs, attend parties at the House of Commons and the Bank of England, and have conversations with people I would never meet in my normal life in California.
What has it been like to teach a literature course in creative non-fiction in the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures ?
While teaching the course, we read the seminal works of the genre, going back to the 1960s in the US. My students were all from the graduate programme in creative writing, and they were intelligent and committed, and I looked forward to our conversations each week.
I chose this theme because the genre of creative non-fiction really sprang out of the political and social revolutions of the 60s - the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the emergence of the counter culture, and the Vietnam war protests.
There are many similarities to what’s happening in the US today, and it was great to get the British view on these events.
Can you tell us more about the event you have coming up?
I’m very excited to share some of my work with the Manchester community. I’ll be reading from a piece about when I escaped from kidnappers in Brazil, then a sample of the writing I’ve been doing here interviewing asylum seekers, followed by a conversation with Horatio Clare.
Find out more about Cathy’s Literature Live event.
Who most inspires you and why?
I spent ten years researching and writing Champion of Choice, the biography of UN leader Nafis Sadik.
Nafis was the first woman to ever lead a United Nations agency, and for 30 years she was the director of the UN Population Fund. I realised at a certain point in writing her story that I had been given an amazing course in leadership.
By virtue of the work I was doing, I had carte blanche to ask her any question and I spent years studying her life, the choices she’s made personally and professionally which have allowed her to quite literally change the world.
When she started at the UN in 1972 the average global birthrate was six children per mother. By the time she left 30 years later that rate had dropped to three, thereby cutting in half population growth. This was accomplished by providing females with access to education and contraception and letting them make their own decisions.
I first studied her methods in persuading leaders around the world, and then I built this knowledge into her biography as a type of blueprint for women hoping to affect political change.
I also had access to interview other female world leaders, eg Irish president Mary Robinson and Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, as well as top-ranking diplomats, and I began to see certain patterns emerge in their methods, which are different than the way male leaders function.
I even did a TED Talk about this, How to Raise Your Daughter to Become a World Leader.