'All my life': Zell Miller III's 'Chronicles of an Indigenous Offspring' was decades in the making
Zell Miller III has spent years in the artistic world, as a slam poet, a writer/performer, and a theater director. His latest work, Chronicles of an Indigenous Offspring, is one that he says has been decades in the making, even if he didn’t always know he was working on it.
“I've been working on this probably, literally, all my life, to be honest with you,” Miller says. “This show is based off just being here in Austin, growing up here and, you know, thinking about different things and then finding a lot of the history of Austin. When I sat down to do this show, it just kind of bubbled up to the top of what I wanted to talk about.
“I started doing deep dives into Austin's history around the pandemic era. And [I discovered] a lot of things that people aren't even aware of, you know. And there's just so many new people here who have no idea. And any time I travel they're like, oh, you're from Austin, it's so cool. And I'm like, 'Yeah, well, if you have certain things it's cool. If not, it's not a great place to be.' I think it's always been bubbling and I finally was able to burst that bubble, I think.”
Miller says part of the inspiration for Chronicles of an Indigenous Offspring came to him during the pandemic lockdown, when he had more time to read. “My amazing wife, Ashley, got me the James Baldwin collection and I've been reading Notes of a Native Son and, and then I started reading Ta-Nehisi Coates. And I just really realized that I haven't really… I mean, [I’ve only] kind of touched on things in terms of my relationship with the city that I grew up in. And so that's what I wanted to really get into with this piece. And it's called Chronicles of An Indigenous Offspring, which is to kind of a play on Baldwin's Notes of a Native Son.
Chronicles of An Indigenous Offspring gets into some Austin history that isn’t talked about much – like the historic racism and genocidal tendencies of Mirabeau Lamar, the namesake of one of our best-known boulevards – but it’s also a very personal work about Miller’s own life and family.
“My mother passed away coming up on five years now,” Miller says. “And so I really wanted to honor the childhood that I had. And I really think these stories are super important because of the times we're living in and… we're all about truth and honesty and we need to be about that. And so that's what made me want to go ahead and put this down in the paper.
“I call myself a unicorn because I grew up in a two parent household. I grew up in a two parent household where sometimes three or four checks were being cashed, and none of them came from the government. Just the work ethic of my parents and the love that was surrounded in that house, you know? Growing up with two bigger brothers, a baby sister.”
For Miller, creating Chronicles of An Indigenous Offspring was in part a tribute to his late mother and his father; it’s also about creating a deeper connection with is own kids.
“Just looking at my children, who are now 23 and 15, and literally the double edged sword of a cozy life for them. And knowing that they, at this point, they haven't really had to struggle with different things and that their world is a lot different than mine,” Miller says. “Trying to get a child of color to understand the barriers that can be stacked against you by the world -- it can be difficult when their world is pretty easy. So, one of the monologues [in Chronicles of An Indigenous Offspring] is about when we moved to North Austin, the first day of school. And that was the first time that I was called the N word by a white kid. And so that's one of the monologues and just talking about that and how the school wasn't supportive of my pain.”
Miller is quick to add, though, that much of the work is about joy and happier memories.
“I'm [not] just on a 45 minute or hour and a half rant about what's wrong,” he says. “It's a balance between being able to show truth and then being able to show the joy that can also spring from things. So I feel like it's a nice combination.”
'Chronicles of An Indigenous Offspring' is onstage at Hyde Park Theater May 11 - June 3.