Madeline Miller was born in Boston, Massachusetts but moved to Manhattan, New York when she was one year old. She grew up visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and during her early years, her mom would let her choose which exhibits to see. She always chose the ones on Egyptian, Roman and Ancient Greek.
In high school and college, she studied Latin with a teacher who also taught extracurricular Greek. "He saw that I was completely obsessed with these stories and took me aside and said, 'I can have you reading the Iliad in the original in about a year.' I said 'Sign me up.'"
She continued her studies at Brown University, where she earned her BA and MA in the classics. She also studied at the University of Chicago's Committee on Social Thought, and in the Dramaturgy Department at Yale School of Drama, where she focused on the adaptation of classical texts to modern forms.
"I have always loved reading and writing," she told Booktopia. "I credit my mom with a lot of this. She was a librarian, and spent countless hours reading aloud to me, and supporting my love of books." Miller also loved independent bookstores as a child. "My local independent bookstores were my best [and](often only) source of passionate recommendations."
For the past 20 years, Miller has taught and tutored Latin, Greek, and the works of William Shakespeare to high school students near Philadelphia. While she taught, she wrote and researched and eventually published her first novel, The Song of Achilles, in 2012, which became a bestseller and was translated into more than 25 languages. Her second novel, Circe, also became a bestseller and winner of numerous awards, including an Alex Award from the American Library Association given to adult books of special interest to teen readers.
Neither novel came easy; The Song of Achilles took Miller 10 years to complete, and Circe took her six years. She rewrote sections many times, discarded full drafts and took time to do research in Greece, Turkey and Italy.
Asked about her enduring interest in the Greek myths, Miller might begin by saying they're simply great stories. They are "exciting, passionate, tragic, terrifying. They're filled with larger-than-life heroes, monsters, catastrophe, and derring-do" (thelibrary.org). But she'll also tell you they are our stories, filled with grief, hope, love, and despair, which is why they've been rewritten and retold through the ages. "Homer is the oldest version of these stories that we have, but Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides revisited them, as did Plato, Vergil, Ovid, Dante, Shakespeare, James Joyce, Margaret Atwood, Derek Walcott, and thousands upon thousands more…. All of those authors offered new perspectives, adding to the story over the years. It's an honor to be part of that tradition, and to do my part to help keep these stories alive" (thelibrary.org).
— Information gathered from the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read website
Madeline Miller was interviewed for the National Endowment for the Arts' weekly podcast, Art Works.