Remembering Calvin Miller

Calvin Miller, best known as author of The Singer from IVP, died August 19. He was a prolific writer, having authored dozens of books, for many of which I worked with him as editor. IVP was proud to have put Calvin on the map of the publishing world with his surprisingly successful “mythic retelling” of the gospel story, a book that went on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies.

The manuscript had been

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rescued from the slush pile by IVP editors Linda Doll and Don Smith in 1974. They were impressed by its creativity and appeal. But could they convince their boss, Milton scholar Jim Sire? They succeeded, and the book was published in the spring of 1975.

I started working at IVP just a couple of months later. The courageous first printing of five thousand copies disappeared almost immediately. So another five-thousand-copy reprint was ordered. But then IVP publisher Jim Nyquist made a month-long business trip to Europe that July, and the team feared the second reprint would not be enough to last through the Christmas buying season. Knowing how frugal Nyquist was, the leadership team decided to ask for forgiveness rather than permission, and took Nyquist’s absence as an opportunity to do a very aggressive (to them) third printing of ten thousand copies. It was a good thing they did, because more than that were sold before Christmas arrived.

Calvin went on to publish over forty books, including ten with IVP. The Singer Trilogy was his best known, and The Path of Celtic Prayer was his most recent. I enjoyed sitting side-by-side with him as we worked through his prose on several of those, sometimes line by line.

What I loved about Calvin

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and about these times together was his joyful love of words. Of course, he was a voluble character with a ready smile. He always had something to say about what he was up to, his family, what he’d been reading or writing, or where he’d traveled. He was happy to be in your presence and let you know that.

Calvin loved the written word. He relished finding just the right phrase–not only for its meaning but for its musicality. He loved the way words sounded. Not surprisingly he enjoyed reading out loud, as he and his wife Barbara did at a memorable IVP author dinner at a book trade convention.

So let me close with some of Calvin’s own words from the middle book of The Singer Trilogy, words which were as true of him as anyone:

The day of one’s death is

a good day to be really alive.