Jeff Miller is a Logan Square resident of three years and has lived in Chicago for nine. He is a published children’s author of the series “The Nerdy Dozen.” Miller found his home in Logan Square along with gaining lots of inspiration for his future writings. Read on for more about Miller’s life, where he hangs out in the neighborhood and how he found his way back to the community.
What do you love most about Logan Square?
I think I’ve always enjoyed Logan Square for being unique—not only with green space and wildly dangerous roundabouts that exist nowhere else in the city, but the people and places. It’s a neighborhood where the grittiness of a big city sort of coexists with young families and churches and vape shops and farmers’ markets—it’s got character. It also serves as home for a pretty great community of artists, which I’ve really grown to appreciate.
As a writer, do you get any inspiration from the neighborhood?
Absolutely—mainly from the people. I’ve basically spent the better part of four years right on the square working at a place called Reno. It’s a good space to do some work. Lots of light, kind people, lots of coffee, we play a good deal of Sade—we have fun.But being right on the square has allowed me to see a pretty broad spectrum of humanity, both good and bad. And talking to people all day every day has given me experiences to draw from with my writing. Most days I get to cross paths with lots of interesting characters… Musicians, real estate agents, tattoo artists, actors, activists, dudes from Zeppelin, playwrights, etc. It’s nice to be around that kind of energy.
I once heard that Shel Silverstein was from the neighborhood, too, so I like to think Logan Square is a place that breeds creativity. I’m hoping that’ll stay true as the neighborhood continues to change.
What made you decide to become a children’s book writer?
I honestly kind of stumbled into it. In college at the University of Cincinnati, I wrote for my school newspaper and had a weekly column where I basically found my voice and stretched the limits of what my editors were willing to tolerate. I was always trying to be as imaginative and funny as possible, which aren’t necessarily valuable traits with newspaper journalism.
Over my college summers, I was also a camp counselor in California and Maine. I basically got to go hiking and rock climbing with ten-year-olds for three summers, so I feel like during that time I developed a pretty good idea of what young readers find interesting. And in 2008 I did an Americorps NCCC program that placed me on a team of young idealists doing service work across the country. I spent time in Maryland and Louisiana, but was in New York City sleeping on the floor of a convent when I met a group of editors during a huge New York Cares event. I’d been passing out paint and gardening supplies in a warehouse for weeks and it was my only day out. The folks I met mainly worked in YA and middle-grade fiction, so I tried my hand at it and we soon started working on the idea for “The Nerdy Dozen.”
It seemed like all my writing and life experience kind of aligned for me to become a children’s author, so I feel very lucky.
We actually met at a community event through Tutoring Chicago. How did you get involved with the organization?
I was really fortunate to be referred by a friend involved with Tutoring Chicago. It’s a great organization that allows authors to come in and chat about reading and writing, then read a tiny excerpt of their writing. I had a blast.
I’ve found that people are also very willing to help authors out, too. The event where we met was one example, and I’ve done many school visits through the connections of friends. I was also lucky to have City Lit Books, host an event for the release of my third book. It’s all flattering and a little intimidating, but I’ve learned to accept and appreciate the help of friends and neighbors.
What other ways do you give back to the community?
Nowadays, and especially this time of the year, my focus is on doing school visits. This will be my fourth year of visiting elementary schools to talk stories, why we love them, and the importance of creating and sharing our own.
It’s sort of the second half of my author gig, but I really feel like it’s important for students to get excited and feel confident about being creative. My time in Americorps made me really value volunteering and service work, though, so I should probably get back to it a bit more.
What are your all-time favorite places around Logan Square?
Geez, OK… I’m a big fan of the Logan Theatre. I remember when every inch of that place smelled like urine, so I try and support them as a ‘thank you’ for the renovations. They also do a great job of curating midnight movies.
When I need to get breakfast and work I usually head over to Same Day Café. They’re good folks with good coffee/records. For more writing, I like heading to Hopewell early in the afternoon for a quick beer… and to pet other people’s dogs. I used to write at Buzz a bit so I’m actually glad it’s up this way, too. And I also have a close relationship with the ice cream section at FoodSmart.
What shameless promotion would you like to share and how can neighbors learn more about you?
Well, I used to perform more around town more but lately it’s just school visits… so if you know of an elementary school that might enjoy a visit, you can find more info at jeffmillerbooks.com.
“Socializing the neighborhood” is at the core of the LoganSquarist mission, so we introduce readers to interesting and unique residents throughout Logan Square in our Know Your Neighbor column. If you know someone who would be ideal for to feature, let us know.