In Honor of C. Wright Mills’ 100th Birthday

by Kathryn Mills, coeditor of C. Wright Mills: Letters and Autobiographical Writings

If my father, C. Wright Mills, were alive today he’d be celebrating his 100th birthday. He was born on August 28, 1916 in Waco, Texas. Birthdays are for celebrating life, which makes me want to quote a letter my father wrote in 1952 to his friend, the historian, William Miller, when Miller was feeling discouraged about a new job he had just accepted. Wright wrote:

“You ask for what one should be keyed up ? My god, for long weekends in the country, and snow and the feel of an idea and New York streets early in the morning and late at night and the camera eye always working whether you want or not and yes by god how the earth feels when it’s been plowed deep and the new chartreuse wall in the study and wine before dinner and if you can afford it Irish whiskey afterwards and sawdust in your pants cuff and sometimes at evening the dusky pink sky to the northwest, and the books to read never touched and all that stuff the Greeks wrote and have you ever read Macaulay’s speeches to hear the English language ? And to revise your mode of talk and what you talk about and yes by god the world of music which we must now discover and there’s still hot jazz and getting a car out of the mud when nobody else can. That’s what the hell to get keyed up about.

The trouble with you and what used to be the trouble with me is that you don’t use your goddamned senses; too much society crap and too much mentality and not enough tactile and color and sound stuff going on. So now if you’re like I was a year ago, you’ve got to coax the sight and sound back, carefully tease it to life again and it will fill you up.”

(from C. Wright Mills: Letters and Autobiographical Writings, edited by Kathryn Mills with Pamela Mills, Introduction by Dan Wakefield, p. 174.)

Mills.CWrightMillsSpeaking of anniversaries, when Barack Obama made his historic visit to Cuba last spring, he stepped off the plane at Havana airport on the 54th anniversary of my father’s death, March 20, 2016.  More than half a century has passed since the U.S. imposed its dreadful embargo against a small, low-income island nation, our neighbor, Cuba, over the strenuous objections of opponents of Cold War hostilities, especially C. Wright Mills.  Although the basic outline of the embargo is still in effect, Obama has managed to weaken its impact and narrow its scope, achieving great progress toward reasonably harmonious relations with Cuba. To quote an old Slavic saying,  “Justice is a train that always arrives late.”


Kathryn Mills works for a book publisher in Boston.