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First Person/Madeline Miller

Novelist Madeline Miller on the classics

The Song of Achilles, out this month by the first-time Cambridge author, was a project 10 years in the making.

Madeline Miller will appear at Brookline Booksmith on Tuesday.

Photograph by Kayana Szymczak

Madeline Miller will appear at Brookline Booksmith on Tuesday.

My mom used to read the Greek myths, particularly The Iliad, to me when I was a little girl, and I absolutely loved them. AT BROWN, I MAJORED IN LATIN and Greek, and then I stayed and got my master’s, also in the classics. I had always loved writing, modern stories mostly, but I never thought about connecting my writing with the classics.

Then, in my senior year, I directed a production of Troilus and Cressida, Shakespeare’s version of the Trojan War. That experience, directing Achilles how to stand and telling Agamemnon what his costume should be, made me realize I could tell these stories myself. I ESPECIALLY LOVED ACHILLES and Patroclus and was moved at Achilles’ grief over losing Patroclus. After the play ended, I sat down at the computer and started writing. Working on the novel on the side was like MY DIRTY SECRET. I went to graduate school and then got a job teaching, and the book was the thing I did on weekends and summer vacations. 

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I ended up writing an entire first draft by about year five. I thought maybe this is ready for publication, but it really wasn’t. I ended up completely REWRITING THE NOVEL FROM SCRATCH. By the time year 10 came around, I had a finished manuscript I felt good about. Within two weeks after my agent submitted the novel to publishers, multiple editors were interested, which just blew me over.

The book came out March 6, and the most exciting thing is seeing the story reach other people. Doing events initially made me a little nervous, but I’m grateful for my classroom experience. If I can face teenagers who maybe don’t want to learn what I’m teaching them, I can do anything.  

– as told to Rachel DeahlInterview has been edited and condensed.
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