Valerie Miner: Connecting and inspiring creative voices

by Sonja Swenson on 01/12/11 at 9:19 am

vminer-hatValerie Miner is possibly best known on campus as a faculty member in Feminist Studies Program and English Department. However, at the Clayman Institute, Miner plays a vital role in empowering female voices on campus as an Artist-in-Residence.

An award-winning author of thirteen books including novels, short fiction and essays, Miner is one of a small number of artists in-residence currently at the university. She is especially pleased to be at an interdisciplinary institute which affords opportunities for stimulation and collaboration across artistic disciplines. Her commitment is evidenced by her leadership in launching and organizing two ongoing programs at the Institute: a quarterly lunch for faculty and staff artists and a quarterly salon series. The salons invite artists currently teaching or working on Stanford campus to spend an afternoon presenting their work to students, staff, faculty and the general public. Past events have featured artists such as filmmakers, dancers, jazz musicians, playwrights and harpers. By giving women artists a place to convene and to share their work, these programs provide venues to empower female voices on campus

The Bella Sorella Soprano Ensemble performed in an Artist Salon in April 2010

The Bella Sorella Soprano Ensemble performed in an Artist Salon in April 2010

Though her position as artist in residence allows her various opportunities to connect with other artists at the university and in the local area, Miner is a writer at heart. Through fiction, she explores her curiosity about both place—many of her stories take place in natural settings, including the High Sierras and California’s coastal range—and people. This February, Miner will travel to Washington D.C. to participate in the Associated Writers and Writing Programs Conference, “A Convenient Truth: Writing and Teaching Ecofiction.” Miner will discuss how she incorporates ecofiction—literary practice connected to nature and environment—into her work and also how writing is influenced more broadly by our relationships of identity and place.

Deeply interested in and inspired by place, Miner’s experiences as a traveler are also closely intertwined with her writing. She has ventured to India, Tunisia and Indonesia with Fulbright fellowships, and in recent years has also given readings and lectures in Turkey, Finland, Spain, Czech Republic and Canada. Miner has returned to India frequently since her first visit in 1988, and she looks forward to seeing friends and giving presentations in Mumbai, Trivandrum and Kolkata this December.

After Eden coverWhether abroad or back in the States, writing is a process of ongoing discovery for Miner. She explains, “As I witness characters’ ethical, spiritual, emotional dilemmas, as they reveal different dimensions and definitions of happiness, each story brings new surprises and satisfactions.” She finds herself intrigued by how individuals’ ideas as well as their feelings inspire action. Miner describes her own work as “social fiction” that attends to the particular historical moment in which characters are situated as well as to their more immediate contexts of family, work, love and friendship. Through her writing, Miner strives to both “celebrate the musical complexity of language” as well as reach a wide audience. She acknowledges the influence of Eugenio Montale, Italian poet, writer and winner of the 1975 Nobel Prize for literature who emphasized the resonance that rises in the reader’s consciousness in the months, years and decades after reading a story.

Through her writing, Miner explores various philosophical, moral and political quandaries, probing and illuminating the contradictory character of human choices rather than didactically offering solutions. Currently she is working on Salvage, a collection of short stories that draws upon themes of rescue, repair, return and restoration. In “Moving In” two women grieve the death of a friend, while in “Triple Crown,” a dental technician ruminates on the satisfactions and dissatisfactions of work and motherhood. Miner is excited about the diversity of new voices, geographies and emotions featured in the collection. “Cobbled Feet” visits a rickshaw driver in India; “The Best Sex Ever” follows the friendship of a lesbian musician and a gay male lawyer, and “Apprehensions” examines the social forces that influence a South Asian family in Seattle during 2001. Through conscientious reflection, Salvage explores the reclamation of material objects, geographical places and human relationships.

Her position as artist in residence enables Miner to both write as well as support other women in their own creative pursuits: she explains, “As a feminist novelist, the Clayman Institute is an ideal home because it focuses on topics of feminism, GLBT issues and gender questions generally.” She feels honored to be able to contribute to the Clayman Institute’s mission. Through her thoughtful contributions as artist-in-residence, professor, mentor and writer, Miner demonstrates her dedication to empowering female voices—not only on campus, but also throughout the world.

The next artist salon, featuring documentary filmmaker Kristine Samuelson will take place on Tuesday, February 15, 2011 at the Clayman Institute.


Sonja Swenson is currently a junior (class of 2012), majoring in Human Biology and pursuing a minor in Education. She is part of the Clayman Institute student writing team, reporting on gender topics at Stanford.

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