Last week my collaborator Dale Williams and I were on the campus of Cornell College (Mount Vernon, Iowa) doing what we do. Dale flew in from Brooklyn for the event.

On April 24 I visited Professor Katy Stavreva’s ENG 322 Shakespeare’s Rivals class, participating in a discussion of the literature of exile, and working with students to devise a strategy of publically presenting sections of Marlowe’s play of exile Edward II in conjunction with lines from my recently completed novel of exile What Days Are Like When There Are Only Nights.

On April 25 Dale and I discussed the topic of artistic collaboration with Professor Sandra Dyas’s ART 307 Advanced Photography class. Later that day, at the school’s Center for the Literary Arts, we presented sections of the first three completed phases of Cage Dies Bird Flies, preceded by a performance by ENG 322 students.

Below is a link to a video of the performance:

Cage Dies Bird Flies is a multi-phase collaboration. Each phase consists of 81 artworks inspired by my texts. These works, in turn, form the basis of books, exhibitions, recordings, performances. The plan is to execute ten phases.

Illuminations by the Slice, Phase I, was created between 2012-2014

Giant Miniature Illuminations, Phase II, was created between 2014-2016

The Luminous Dark: Landscapes Found and Lost, phase III, was created between 2017-2019

Before it snowed, Dale and I, along with poet Anne Pierson Wiese, visited Stone City,  Iowa, the site of Grant Wood’s art colony in the 1930s. Below is an image of the three us standing in front of the Stone City General Store.




On April 20th at Cornell College students and faculty gathered to translate the poem “The Red Wheelbarrow” (William Carlos Williams) into some of the many languages spoken in the urban Midwest, including German, Russian, Portuguese and Spanish. This effort is another in support of my on-going Mural Speaks! project born at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study in 2014.


On receiving the school’s Leadership and Service Award from the Alumni Association, I made these brief comments:

Whenever I sit down to work on an essay or a short story, whenever I lift this growing binder of translations of ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’—my next choices are informed by the rigorous training I received here at Cornell College.

It was not simply instruction in the data-received sense. As importantly—or more importantly—I had the inspiring experience of spending four years in the company of a startling array of fierce intellectuals and robust individualists, from [teachers] Robert Dana, Liz Isaacs, Geneva Meers, Stephen Lacey, Rich Martin and Diana Crowder to [Dean] Bill Heywood, [coach] Barron Bremner, photographer Bob Campagna and groundskeeper Ernie Sommerville, a scathing critic of my work study leaf raking technique.

I emerged, somewhat miraculously, in one piece. And better, with the heart to fight again and again the dizzying and often lonely battles inherent in the crafting of individual expressions and then bearing them forward in a world that tragically too often encourages, and rewards, conformity that furnishes us with a shallow stability at the price of our deep and sacred imaginations.

Regardless of current institutional fashion, because I attended this extraordinary school I not only believe, I know there are invincible arguments to be made for the study of the humanities—for the pursuit of art and knowledge for the sake of art and knowledge—as this practice singularly bolsters the health of our mental, emotional and spiritual beings.

To those who handed me the light and showed me the way, I will be forever grateful. For them I quote these lines from Puck’s last speech in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Now the hungry lion roars,

And the wolf behowls the moon…

I am sent with broom before

to sweep the dust behind the door.

Ben Miller ’86 accepts Leadership and Service Award