Chanel Miller Calls Libraries a Sanctuary | ALA Midwinter 2020

The 2020 American Library Association Midwinter conference, held January 24–28 in Philadelphia, closed with featured speaker Chanel Miller on Monday afternoon. Miller, an author and unintentional activist, considers libraries to be her home away from home.

Chanel Miller speaking at ALA Midwinter
Chanel Miller
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Sendaula

The 2020 American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter conference, held January 24–28 in Philadelphia, ended with featured speaker Chanel Miller's closing session on Monday afternoon. Miller is an author, artist, and, in her words, an unintentional activist.

Speaking in conversation with Chera Kowalski, assistant to the chief of staff at the Free Library of Philadelphia, Miller began the presentation by showcasing some of her hand-drawn illustrations, and talking about the important role that libraries have played in her life. For Miller, librarians and books both heal and save. She considers libraries to be empathy centers, brain feeders, and heart shelters. Most importantly, she referred to them as places where vulnerable people can seek assistance. 

Know My NameDescribing the inspiration behind her bestselling memoir, Know My Name (LJ starred review, LJ Best Book 2019), Miller explained how she wanted to create her own version of her story since there was already an identity of a sexual assault survivor, Emily Doe, created by media projections. She also noticed that, whenever a survivor speaks up, it is often framed as a revenge narrative. In her case, writing a book was about speaking her truth, and that "even if our truths don't align, it doesn't make my truth any less valid.”

Writing the book allowed Miller to better figure out who she was in the aftermath of a traumatic event that altered her identity, and required incorporating that new identity into other ones: friend, sister, and partner. Miller reminded the attentive audience that it is okay not to cope right away, and to allow time to sit with an incident or trauma before determining how to process it and move forward, especially as survivors often feel like their credibility has to be proved in order to be taken seriously. She also talked about the outpouring of support she received from people around the world after her victim impact statement was published on BuzzFeed.

Chanel Miller"I get a lot of credit for being courageous and having willpower and I appreciate it. At the same time, I know there are many times throughout this process that I have given up on myself. I gave up on a part of me that believed I was capable of doing something worthy. And the only reason I’m here today is because other people have never given up on me."

In the wide-ranging conversation, Miller also touched on positive memories of living in Philadelphia after the assault, and how creative pursuits, from writing to drawing,  helped her heal. "It took me a long time to understand it wasn't me who was wrong, but the circumstances I was being submerged in," she added. Reflecting on being an unlikely activist, Miller mentioned that activism is different for everyone, and that she strives to cater her activism to what allows her to be most fulfilled.

She ended by stating that it's important for fellow survivors to do physical check-ins while reading her book, and that it's okay to take pauses while reading. As for what she is reading now, Miller recommends Good Morning, Destroyer of Men's Souls: A Memoir of Women, Addiction, and Love by Nina Renata Aron, which will be published by Crown in April 2020. After the conversation, Miller signed copies of her book, as fellow attendees shared their stories, and remarked how much her story meant to them.

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Stephanie Sendaula

Stephanie Sendaula (ssendaula@mediasourceinc.com) is an Associate Editor at Library Journal.

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