Sumter native named to Academy of Authors

Novelist, poet, humanist honored posthumously

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The late Arthenia J. Bates Millican, a Sumter native, will join a distinguished group of writers when she is inducted into the South Carolina Academy of Authors in a special ceremony at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 22, at the Francis Marion University Performing Arts Center in Florence. Other honorees will include poet Cathy Smith Bowers, historian Dan T. Carter and Pulitzer Prize winner Jim Hoagland, journalist.

Millican, who died in 2012 at the age of 92, taught at Morris College and was internationally recognized for her fiction writing, poetry and essays. Former Sumter resident Nikky Finney, winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Poetry and a 2013 Academy honoree, will give the introductory remarks for Millican's induction.

Millican's most celebrated work, the short story collection titled "Seeds Beneath the Snow: Vignettes from the South," and her novels, "The Deity Nodded" and "Such Things from the Valley" have inspired comparisons to Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Thomas Hardy and Richard Wright, among others. She was often described as a "humanist of rural Southern folk" and was recognized around the world for her work.

A Lincoln High School graduate, Millican finished Morris College, where she later taught, received a master's degree from Atlanta University in 1948 and her Ph.D. from Louisiana State University in 1972. Her doctoral dissertation on James Weldon Johnson was titled "In Quest of an AfroCentric Tradition for Black American Literature."

Millican began her career as a teacher and department head in S.C. and Virginia public schools, studied poetry with Langston Hughes and saw her own writing published in the "Oxford Companion to African-American Literature," Essence, the Negro Digest, the College Language Association Journal and other distinguished publications. It was not until 1969, when she was almost 50, that Millican published "Seeds Beneath the Snow," which still enjoys an international reputation.

Praised extensively by critics with The Washington Post and the CLA Journal for her primitive themes and unique ability as a "local colorist," Millican's work has been described as "words that continue to move and engage us today, a quarter- to a half-century after she first shared her visions with us."

Among the many honors she received during her long career were a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts; the Distinguished Alumni Award from Morris College; Who's Who in America. Millican's work is included in both the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of Negro Arts and Letters in the Beinecke Library at Yale University and the South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina. The AJBM Literary Foundation was established in Sumter to preserve her legacy.

Other area writers in the Academy include Elizabeth Boatwright Coker, James McBride Dabbs, Marian Wright Edelman, Nikky Finney, Susan Ludvigson and Dori Sanders.

Millican's short story based on the aftermath of the Emmett Till murder can be read online at http://w.emmetttillmurder.com/Bates.htm. It is included in her collection titled "Seeds Beneath the Snow: Vignettes from the South."